Mission begins early


Bishop ordains 21 new elders

By Woody Woodrick
Advocate Editor

Bishop Hope Morgan Ward welcomed 21 new clergy to the point where darkness meets light on the opening night of the 20th session of the Mississippi Annual Conference.

“God has drawn a circle in the water at the boundary between darkness and light,” Ward said. “Our call is to live in that place. Tonight you come to live deeper in that place where people hold hell and hope in the palm of their hands,” said Ward.

Ward’s sermon was part of the service of ordination that highlighted the opening day of the conference. Most of the first day was spent registering the nearly some 2,000 clergy and lay representatives of 1,140 churches in the conference.

Also on Sunday, volunteers began working their way toward a goal of 100,000 meals and $25,000 on donations for Stop Hunger Now. The organization collects and ships packets of food around the world. Each packet can feed six people. Volunteers will continue filling the packets today and Tuesday.

Twenty candidates were ordained elders in full connection at the service, held before a packed congregation at Jackson Christ United Methodist Church. One candidate was ordained a deacon in full connection.

While the boundary between light and dark can be a treacherous place, it’s also the place where God tends to work, Ward said. “The edge is an exciting place to be.”

Ward called the ordained ministry an art. “I want to be an artist of the things of God,” she said. “I want to be an artist of congregational life; an artist of welcome who draws together the creativity of God’s people.”

The Rev. Ever Jean Burt of Greenwood Wesley UMC said the service was a time for her to praise God for reaching the goal she had sought for five or six years. “I now have a greater desire to do my share of the world’s ministry,” she said.

Burt said Ward’s discussion of the space between light and dark meant a lot to her. “Hatred and love go hand-in-hand. It’s been that way since the fall of man,” she said.

“Ministry can be a very frightening call, can be a somewhat dangerous call, but it is a rewarding call,” Burt said.

The Rev. Ben Barlow said he knew well the space between hell and hope. “Nine months after I got out of seminary, I went to Long Beach (First UMC) and went through (Hurricane Katrina). The words she spoke were real to me.”

Barlow said the whole service was special. “I realized it was a celebration of an affirmation of the whole church putting a stamp on what God has called me to do.”

Following the service, the first “Afterglow” was held, giving those attending the  conference a chance to fellowship and have refreshment. Also, those ordained and their families were invited to a reception.

Today’s agenda turns toward the business of the conference, including the retirement service and a special presentation of the “10 Provocative Questions” raised by Mississippi native Dr. Lovett Weems in a report written last fall for the Council of Bishops.

The afternoon session begins with a service of remembrance for clergy and their family members who have died during the past year. Later in the afternoon, special awards and recognitions are set.

The annual Laity Dinner is scheduled for 5:30 p.m.

The Monday evening worship service celebrated youth ministries and was led by Theon Johnson III of Canton, a seminary student. In addition, the conference mission offering was taken.