Celebrating ministry


Closing service seeks to honor all who serve

By Woody Woodrick
Advocate Editor

Ministry takes place each day in a variety of forms and through a variety of people, clergy and lay.

The Mississippi Annual Conference will honor everyone involved in ministry this afternoon with the service of Ordering of Ministry and Sending Forth.

Included in the service will be the ordination and commissioning of new pastors, recognition of the work of current clergy and the work on laity.

“In the celebration of ordination, which is a sacred and joyful thing, we realize that there are so many parts to being in ministry,” said the Rev. Steve Casteel, director of Connectional Ministries. “In keeping in mind the idea of 10,000 doors, we see this as a chance to celebrate the whole gamut of ministry, especially those who maybe often don’t get recognized.”

The service begins at 3 p.m. and will conclude the 2009 session of the Mississippi Annual Conference at the Jackson Convention Complex.

Today’s closing follows a busy day for members of the Annual Conference. Most of the day was given to hearing reports from various ministry groups. It also included voting on 32 proposed amendments to the constitution of the United Methodist Church. Mississippians voted against most of those amendments.

Also part of Saturday’s proceedings was a worship service celebrating the retirement of 21 clergy and their spouses and a service celebrating the lives of clergy and spouses who have died since the 2008 Annual Conference.

Members did take action on three items from the Board of Medical Benefits. One allows clergy who have a continuing relationship with the conference to continue their coverage at the established cost as a participant as the 2008 Book of Discipline allows and not on a continuous coverage basis. The second item adds mental health and substance abuse treatment to be covered in the same manner as any other item in accordance with federal law. Finally, the board asked for apportionment funding of $5,026,516, which represents two-thirds of the cost of the program. The other third will come from participant payments. The board will recommend a maximum rate to cover that one-third cost.

Members of the Annual Conference continued their commitment to ministry to the hungry on Saturday. Society of St. Andrew held a potato and produce drop at the convention complex. Volunteers packaged 32,000 pounds of sweet potatoes; 40,000 pounds of cucumbers and another 15,000-18,000 pounds of squash, cabbage and cucumbers.

The potatoes were donated by N&W Farms and Tim Edmondson Farms in Vardaman, while Allen Eubanks of Lucedale donated most of the cucumbers. The squash, cabbage and loose cucumbers were gleaned from one of Eubanks’ fields on Friday by some 40 volunteers.

Bob Fritchey, director of the Mississippi field office for SoSA, estimated about 200 volunteers helped bag the food, which was given to about 15 individual feeding agencies and to the Mississippi Food Network which services more than 300 feeding programs.

“The Mississippi Conference has been a big supporter since day one,” Fritchey said. “Various churches have been very supportive financially and with volunteers.”

He said holding an event at Annual Conference allowed SoSA to not only feed the hungry but offered a reminder of what the organization does and the need for volunteers. “We have a lot of folks with kind hearts.”

Meanwhile, for the second year in a row, Stop Hunger Now met its Annual Conference food packaging goal a day early. The goal was to pack 125,000 meals to be shipped overseas to feed mostly children. By 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, volunteers had packed 125,340 meals. Last year, Annual Conference volunteers packaged 100,000 meals.

The sixth annual Arise! Shine! Run! event was held Saturday morning. Some 118 runners and walkers made their way over the 5K course through downtown Jackson. For the first time, the event was timed and awards given out to overall winners and age-group winners. Thomas Kazery of Clinton, 19, was the overall male winner in a time of 18 minutes, 52.8 seconds, while Teresa Crothers was the overall female winner in 24:23.9. Female masters winner was Wendy Harms in 26:29.9 and female grand master winner Bishop Hope Morgan Ward in 33:491. Male masters winner was Bryan Lagg of Jackson in 19:38.3, while Mark T. Lipking of Brandon was grand masters winner in 19:52.3.

Friday night worship
From the spirited processional down the center aisle of the worship space and a spirited opening concert by the Hope for Africa Children’s Choir, to the congregation joining gospel singer Brian Courtney Wilson in singing Alelu!...You’re Already Here! at the end, the Friday evening worship service at the 2009 Annual Conference session was a Spirit-filled celebration of the healing touch of God on the lives of people, and on the church.

Preaching on the text John 5:1-9, the Rev. Rudy Rasmus kept reminding the congregation that Jesus asked the man waiting beside the pool to enter the waters and be healed, “Do you really want to be healed... what are you waiting for?”

Rasmus said that there is a difference between waiting for something to happen and being “stuck.”  Waiting is a decision, but inability to act is being stuck. “Sometimes,” Rasmus added, “we are stuck into inactivity by our fears, or our prejudices or by what others say about us.  And even churches can be stuck by those same attitudes.”

In the biblical story, the man beside the pool answered Jesus’ question by saying that he was waiting for someone to put him in the healing waters. He was waiting, according to Rudy, for opportunity to knock. “But opportunity does not knock – you have to knock ‘hell’ out of opportunity, or you’re gonna stay stuck!”

“The sick man didn’t realize that he didn’t need the pool,” according to Rasmus.  “All he needed was already present… .Jesus!” Jesus healed him when he touched his life.

“Do you really want to be healed (church)? All you really need is already present, Jesus. What are you waiting for?”

That message, that the loving touch of Jesus through believers and the church is healing, was testified to by witnesses presented to the congregation by worship leader the Rev. Keith Tonkel.  Jennifer Parker told how her life is good through discovering in a series of foster families and a local church how God can heal “through people who open their hearts.”  Carol and Ray McNulty, a biracial couple, and partners Renee Sappington and Tommie Campbell, all testified to the healing which comes through churches which open doors by following the example of Jesus, and surround persons with love.

Chris Sartin sang, “I say, ‘Brother, help me please’...Good God Almighty, change gon’ come!”, and Brian Courtney Wilson sang, “All I need is a touch from you.”

Hundreds of people present enthusiastically affirmed the message of the worship experience: “Do you really want to be healed? All you really need is already here – Jesus!  What are you waiting for?" 

Retired “Advocate” editor Rayford Woodrick contributed to this report.