By Drew McIntyre
We began this week with the entire Conference reaffirming our baptism. This theme carried throughout our days of worship, recognitions, business, and fellowship, and was reiterated in the ordination service Saturday evening. At the beginning, Bishop Leeland called on all present to remember their baptism once more, as a reminder that the ministry of Christ is not the work of clergy, but the work of the whole church:
“Ministry is the work of God, done by the people of God. Through baptism all Christians are made part of the priesthood of all believers, the church, and Christ’s body, made visible in the world. We all share in Christ’s ministry of love and service…”
The communal recognition of baptism takes us back to the water that claims us reminds of the event from which all ministry ultimately derives: the death and resurrection of Jesus. St. Paul says in Romans 6 that we are buried with Christ in baptism so that we might rise with him in newness of life.
From among the baptized, some are called and set apart for ordained ministry. The language here is important. Clergy at our best never forget that we are “set apart,” not set above. Deacons and Elders, as the Bishop stated to those about to be ordained Saturday night, are called “to serve rather than be served.”
We were blessed at this service, once again, by the musical gifts of Rev. Robert McMichael and Jarvis Wilson from Georgia. Also from Georgia, Bishop Lawson Bryan preached a powerful sermon on the miracle at Cana titled, “When the wine runs out.” Confessing that he spent years avoiding this particular biblical story, Bishop Bryan shared how he later discovered that his discomfort with the story was actually the point of the miracle: we do indeed “run out,” but that’s when Jesus shows up. Our job is not to make the wine, but merely to emulate the servants pouring the water. He called on the ordinands, and all the baptized present, to serve Christ by “pouring water” into ourselves, our communities, and our churches.
The service continued with an examination of the Deacon and Elder candidates by Bishop Leeland, a solemn occasion that always takes me back to my own ordination just a few years ago. The service, from our Book of Worship, does a wonderful job of narrating the common calling of all the ordained, and the particular ministries of the two distinct Orders of Deacons and Elders. The service culminates in the ordinands coming forward to kneel, one-by-one, and having hands laid on them by the bishops, their district superintendent, and two other ordained clergy of their choice. Those present in the congregation are invited to stand while a friend or loved one is ordained to show their prayerful support. An especially moving moment Saturday night was when Rev. Sarah Howell was ordained by her grandfather, Bishop Thomas Stockton, and her father, Rev. Dr. James Howell, also laid hands on her. Three generations of WNCC clergy at one ordination is a powerful testament to God’s faithfulness in continuing to raise up leaders among us.
After the service the ordinands traditionally gather outside Stuart Auditorium to be greeted by their friends and family. This is always one of my favorite times of the Conference. I spent some time with church members from Rev. Lauren Hill’s church, New Union (Asheboro). They had travelled from the eastern edge of WNCC to support their pastor, and for many of them it was the first time they had been present at an ordination service. They were visibly moved, both out of pride for a pastor they love, and by the experience overall.
Holiness always makes an impact on us, and the tears and smiles on the faces of those dedicated laity – repeated by so many other friends, family, and supporters of those ordained Saturday night – were a testament to the beauty and power of this service.
Just at St. Paul reminded his protege, Timothy, to “rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands” (2 Timothy 1:6, NRSV), may the celebration of these new Deacons and Elders remind us all of God’s grace, and the power the Holy Spirit gives us to pour water into our neighborhoods, homes, workplaces, and churches, that Christ may take our small efforts and transform them into the miraculous, life-altering wine of his Kingdom banquet.