Saturday, June 4, 2011

Annual Conference and a Special Bible and Chalice

It seems that whenever I attend Annual Conference on a year when I'm moving, it's a particularly "moving" experience in more than one way. I suppose this is because I am experiencing all the emotions of transition, the gratitude I feel for the ministry setting I've been in and the anticipation I feel about the new one. With all the ups and downs we experience together as a Conference, I love being Methodist and serving the body of Christ.

There are always highlights for me. This year, they were remembering some special saints at the Memorial Service, an outstanding ordination service, the new president of Birmingham-Southern's speech full of healing words, a good debate about race relations and new church plants, special prayer experiences led by the Asbury leadership, sending new missionaries into ministry in Malawi, celebrating the great turnaround of our beloved Sumatanga with their new director and chaplain, getting the opportunity to coordinate the Commissioning Service, getting a packet of genealogy from a clergy colleague I've just discovered is a distant cousin, and seeing my sister-in-law elected as an alternate to the Jurisdictional delegation for the first time (I was also elected alternate).

But the most memorable moment for me was, strangely, not about present ministry activities but about two special relics. There is something about connecting with the deepest aspect of our history that brings me great passion about the future. There was a large pulpit Bible at the ordination service that was brought over by Francis Asbury from England when he came to organize the Methodist Episcopal Church in the late 1700's. There was also a silver chalice from the hand of John We
sley himself, who gave it to Asbury to bring to found the new church.

They are held at historic St. George's UMC in the Philadelphia area and are often used at ordination services around the country. But I had never heard of them. I got to touch them. Kneeling before the Asbury Bible and laying my hand on it, and taking a drink from the Wesley cup, led me to a viceral, emotional response. In all the ups and downs of ministry, in all the hardship of preaching the gospel in this present culture resistant to the church, I'm reminded of the real root of who I am and what I'm about. It's not about monuments but about movement. It gives my life texture to know I'm part of something bigger than I am and am depending on a Spirit that goes well beyond my own abilities. Thanks be to God!

One of my direct ancestors, Rev. Levi Garrison, was ordained by Francis Asbury along with his brother. For all I know, he placed his hands on this very Bible. The thought of that gives me chills.

Pictured are the chalice and Bible from the ordination service.