On Saturday night 17 elders were welcomed into full connection at an Ordination Service at the Juanita K. Hammons Hall for the Performing Arts.
The pre-ordination music was a real concert, with the crowd held riveted by the music rather than simply waiting for Ordination to begin. The talent from various youth who performed, some of whom were as young as 11 years old, sounded like the final round of American Idol or The Voice.
Rev. Anthony Witherspoon, senior pastor of Washington A.M.E. Zion Church in St. Louis brought the ecumenical greeting.
“I’ve come to realize that God has a very serious sense of humor,” he said. “Years ago I was watching a football game in North Carolina between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Los Angeles Rams. I said, ‘A person would have to be crazy to live in the snow and cold of Missouri’.”
Witherspoon said he knew where he was going, until he spoke to his Bishop and was told he was going to Missouri. He told his Bishop he had already talked to God about it, and his Bishop said, “God is talking to you now.” He has now served a church in Missouri for 13 years.
“God knows what he’s doing. He has a reason for moving us to wherever he moves us to,” Witherspoon said. While in Missouri he has collaborated with Missouri Conference pastors Rev. Daniel Hilty, Rev. Jeff Long, Rev. Lisa Scott-Joiner, Rev. John Heyward, and Rev. Anthony Settles.
Bishop Robert Schnase was the preacher for Ordination. In talking about his call to ministry, he said in high school he thought of becoming a park ranger or biologist. In college he considered psychology, or a job in human resources. One counselor recommended that he become an actuary. But several experiences lead him in a different direction.
At age 13, a guest preacher at a revival at Bishop Schnase’s church mentioned him by name during a sermon, and after the sermon he gave him his address and phone number, and told him to contact him if he had any questions. At age 14 he was asked to be in charge of the slide and movie projector at church, and was thereby committed to be present at many aspects of the church’s ministry that he otherwise would have not been involved in. At age 15 his pastor asked him to participate in a local mission project of cutting firewood, and in delivering it he saw people living in a degree of poverty that he previously did not know existed so near his home. About that time his pastor preached a sermon on the call to ministry, and gave him a brochure after the service entitled, “Are you called to Ministry?”
During college he worked at a suicide prevention center from 11 p.m. Saturday night to 8 a.m. Sunday morning.
“One night I got a call from a woman, and she was the closest to the edge I’d ever dealt with,” he said. The call went on for about four hours. It was a very powerful and extremely exhausting time. She finally turned a corner and got some help. “I was exhausted when I left, but when I stepped out on the sidewalk I felt like I could fly. I was so energized. I felt like something at the core of life saying, ‘You can do this. You can make a difference’.”
It was through such simple but profound experiences that an empty life was filled. Each new experience was like another number on a dot-to-dot drawing.
“Even though the picture was not complete, I began to trust that God was work. I didn’t choose it for myself. My call has a gift-like, grace-like quality to it,” Bishop Schnase said. “Did I hear God’s voice? Yes and no. Metaphor is language at its most powerful. Was I called? There weren’t many voices I was hearing outside of myself, but the call was real, and valid and reliable.”
A list of names were read that demonstrates that today’s ordinands are removed by about eight or nine people from John Wesley. Go all the way back to Jesus, and it would be about two rows of seats. The word ordained means to be set in a direction.
“I want you to picture this like a bow,” Bishop Schnase said. “The names before us are pulling back to push you forward.”
Means of Grace – if you’ve been going through interviews, you’ve probably been thinking about the sacraments. The sacraments are only part of the means of grace. The church itself is a means of Grace. Scripture is a means of Grace. The church is a way that God reaches down and invites us into relationship.
“You’re call to ministry and the ministry to which you are now being ordained is a means of Grace. You are ambassadors of Jesus Christ. You are called by God. You are here by the Grace of God. It’s present in all that you do. Our calling is a gift. Our heritage is a gift. It’s a gift. Never forget. It’s all a gift.”