2020 Celebration of Ministry; Ordaining in the Midst of a Pandemic

November 11, 2020

As a result of social distancing and many of the unknowns we are currently facing concerning COVID-19, Annual Conference 2020 has been rescheduled for Saturday, November 21, on ZOOM from 9:00 am - 1:00 pm. 

Other events traditionally associated or held during Annual Conference have also been moved to an online format, including the Celebration of Ministry Service and Ordination. 

The Celebration of Ministry Service and Ordination service was held Friday, November 13, at 6:00 pm at First United Methodist Church in Baton Rouge. The event was closed to the public; only immediate family members were invited and in attendance. 

However, we plan to share the service on our Facebook page and our YouTube channel Sunday, November 15, at 7:00 pm.

You can view photos from the service here

The pandemic has shifted how everyone gathers together, including our churches and sanctuaries. This reality has introduced everything from limited seating for the guests to masks and plenty of hand sanitizer for the ordination service. None of the uniqueness is lost on Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey. 

"Yet, in the midst of pandemics, a strained racial and political climate, God is still calling people, and they are saying, 'Yes!', says Bishop Harvey. "God continues to place a call on people's hearts and lives that cannot be shaken. It is a high and holy privilege to lay hands on these persons and say, 'take thou authority to proclaim the Word of God'. The road to ordination is difficult in the best of circumstances. In this season, it is more important than ever that we send out these newly ordained persons into the world to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ to a world so desperate for good news."


Ordination Homily: Day After Day, After Day...

"Lights, camera, action!"

"Please mute your microphone if you are not speaking; it makes it easier for the rest of us."

"You're muted."

"Can I share my screen?"

"Do we have enough hand sanitizer? Where are the extra masks?"

Did you ever imagine doing ministry this way? I often read on social media..." today we did a thing", you need to post for the world to see that you did a thing. The road to ordination and commissioning is never easy, but I cannot believe you ever imagined THIS! Here we are in a new space for an ordination service. The service itself is modified so that we can minimize the amount of time of exposure. We are not singing. You are seated 6 feet apart. We limited the number of people in the sanctuary, and we are all wearing masks! If that isn't enough change, I don't know what is!

This entire year has been filled with disruption. Pandemics, racial unrest, political unrest, and oh yeah – hurricanes – not one but three! You want to cry, "uncle." Enough! Enough is enough! Yet, here you are. You are here because you cannot betray your vocational call. You cannot say no to the movement of the Spirit.  And when you want to cry enough – you somehow muster up the strength for the next step.  

I am just not talking to clergy here – you are all resilient, and when you feel depleted, you borrow strength, courage, and hope from one another.  That is what it means to be in covenant with one another. Clergy, for a moment, let me speak directly to you. 

It is okay to shout from the rooftops, "enough is enough." It is okay to cry for help. It is okay to pull the covers over your head and say, "not today. Not today." You have every right to do so.  Hear these words from James Chapter 1 from The Voice translation 

"Don't run from tests and hardships, brothers and sisters. As difficult as they are, you will ultimately find joy in them; if you embrace them, your faith will blossom under pressure and teach you true patience as you endure. And true patience brought on by endurance will equip you to complete the long journey and cross the finish line—mature, complete, and wanting nothing.  If you don't have all the wisdom needed for this journey, then all you have to do is ask God for it; and God will grant all that you need. He gives lavishly and never scolds you for the asking. The key is that your request is anchored by your single-minded commitment to God. Those who depend only on their own judgment are like those lost on the seas, carried away by any wave, or picked up by any wind."

This is one of those passages that I have a little trouble reconciling. It makes me want to cry, uncle – enough is enough. I have endured enough!  I am more mature and complete than the law should allow. And I do doubt.  And I feel like that guy in Lake Charles that decided to ride out Laura in his houseboat – tossed and turned!

I doubt authority.
I doubt the weather channel.
I doubt myself!  

But when we tune our ear, when we listen a little closer – do we hear the steadfast love of God?  Regardless of this testing, regardless of how weary we are – best of all, God is with us – day after day after day. Your resilience is a witness of God with us these days. Your courage and your willingness to yes to God's call, especially in the midst of a world that is so uncertain and shaky, is a testament to a God who is not done with us yet, who is still creating, redeeming, reconciling, and making all things new.  

You say yes, even in your weariness. You say yes, even when you don't know exactly where you are going. You say yes because you know that, best of all, God is with you. Clergy and laity, you have adapted to every disruption that has been thrown at you.  You have learned how to be producers, movie makers, technology specialists. You've navigated masks, no masks, in-person worship, and online worship. You have learned to worship in the most unusual of circumstances.  You have reclaimed your hope for tomorrow and the day after that and after that.  

When you didn't think you could go any further or learn anything more –you did. I believe you did because your call cannot be easily dismissed. God has called you to this unique time in the history of our church. We have an opportunity to try new things, to learn, to adapt – we may never have this opportunity again. We have to be innovative, creative and I honestly believe because we have ALL been impacted by the need to adapt -- we stand at a unique threshold in time.  We have a choice to reclaim our destination. We are in a unique position to provide stability in the midst of this chaos.

In Leading God's People: Wisdom from the Early Church for Today, Christopher Beeley says, "Effective Christian leaders combine stability and flexibility, simplicity and multiplicity, in order to guide their flocks well."  We, clergy and laity alike, have a unique opportunity to guide our flocks well. I read recently that stability is one of the vows taken by those who become monastics.  

Author Jan Richardson says:  "The vow recognizes that in committing ourselves to a particular place and staying rooted despite changes around and within us, we grow in a way that is different than if we are constantly on the move...Stability is not just about physically remaining in one place. The practice of stability impels us to find something worth giving ourselves to for a long, long time – a place, a community, a person, a path – and in that, to grow deeper in relationship with the God who dwells there."

Is this not the call for us today? By our baptism, we are called to provide stability that impels us to find something worth giving ourselves to for a long, long time and providing a path for others to do the same.  Imagine if we committed to providing a clear direction towards the promised land. A leadership toward our mission to proclaim good news to the poor and release to the captives.  Stable leadership that leads to confession, repentance, and recalibration.

This is what our world needs and wants. I know what you are thinking – they sure have a funny way of showing it.

I get it!

I worry that people are so weary they grow impatient, and when they are impatient – they lash out because they don't know what else to do. They lash out because they are grieving all they have lost. As people of faith, we have to model another way.  We must be the stability that people seek. We must be the voice of love that people need to hear. A voice that doesn't judge isn't cynical and doesn't fear but loves. Could people look at us – Louisiana United Methodists and say, "See how they love one another."  Can we let the Spirit breathe possibility into us and into our world?

Possibility of love and forgiveness and repentance? 
Possibility of new life, new imagination, and new possibilities?
Possibility of a renewed center, a strengthened anchor, and a hopeful future?

In times like this, we want to ask where God is? I wonder if God is asking where we are?

One of the gifts of COVID has been the opportunity I have had to walk and to spend time with my spouse.  Early in the pandemic, we were out for our 6-mile walk, and the great theologian, Dean Harvey spoke. I don't even know what we were talking about other than probably something to do with this time of uncertainty. He said, "you know, I think God is saying to us – everything you ever need to know I have placed in your heart. Long before Bibles and music, before you took your first breath – I placed everything you need to know in your heart."

WOW! I placed everything you need to know in your heart before you were born.  I have reflected on these words a lot.

When I think of that day as we were being formed in our mother's womb, God said, "I am placing in your heart all you will ever need for all of your days, the good and the bad, all you will ever need – day after day after day. There will be many days ahead when you will need to call on that which God has placed in the depth of your heart, knitted into your very being – everything you will ever need. 

On the days when things are so chaotic, so upside down – you have everything you need.  
Everything you will need to stay rooted in God.
Everything you need to model the way of Jesus in the world.
Everything you will need to lead your flocks well.  

I pray that you will lead with humility and courage, and confidence. Remember, you are bearers of the Good News even when you don't feel like it when you are weary when you just want to cry, uncle – enough is enough!  

Benedictine Sister Joan Chittister says: "Everywhere there are people who, despite finding themselves mired in periods of national [disruption] or personal marginalization refuse to give up the thought of a better future or give in to the allurements of a deteriorating present. They never lose hope that the values they learned in the best of times or the courage it takes to reclaim their world from the worst of times are worth the commitment of their lives. These people, the best of ourselves, are legion, and they are everywhere."

Sisters and brothers – they are everywhere – they are here – they are you! The values you have learned in the best of times and the worst of times are worth the commitment of your lives! God has given you all that you need – lean into it, call it up when the days are dark, and call it up when the days are filled with light. These are uncertain times, yet of one thing, we are certain you have everything you need to lead your flocks well.

Everything you need to provide stability.
Everything you need to provide flexibility.
Everything you need to provide simplicity.
Everything you need to provide the multiplicity that the Spirit promises.

No matter what is behind you, no matter what is in front of you – best of all God is with you.

Day after day after day after day...

To read more about ordination in the United Methodist Church, head here


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