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Bidding the bishop a fond farewell

May 25, 2016

By Melissa Lauber 
UMConnection Staff

Words of heartfelt gratitude and soulful reflection marked each of the four regional farewell ceremonies that honored Bishop Marcus Matthews for his 42 years of ministry, of which all but eight years was spent serving God in the Baltimore-Washington Conference.

At the celebrations, held April 9, 10, 16 and 17, the Deaf choir sang “Did you Ever Know that You’re my Hero,” African dancers, liturgical dancers, and diverse choirs performed, favorite hymns were sung, the bishop’s grandson portrayed him in a skit, and memories were shared in times of fellowship and refreshments. But most of all, there were words of tribute and gratitude for moments of shared ministries.

“It is grace,” said the Rev. Ianther Mills, pastor of Asbury UMC in Washington. Those were the first words Bishop Matthews spoke to the Washington Region when he arrived to lead the Conference during a welcome service Sept. 22, 2012.

It was grace that brought a boy from South Carolina to become a bishop in The United Methodist Church, said Mills. “It is always the grace of God.”

Matthews said he experienced that grace anew, sitting in the pew in the church where his ministry as a pastor began, and where, steps away, he married Barbara Walker Matthews 42 years ago.

During the service, Matthews was honored for his accomplishments throughout the seasons of his ministry. Common threads were woven through the remarks by his colleagues. The bishop, it was noted, is a man of God, who actively lives a faith-based life. He’s a pastor’s pastor, who brought healing to the Baltimore-Washington Conference by always putting people first.

“As a leader, he doesn’t mind other people shining,” said the Rev. Lillian Smith. “If you had any giftedness, he would push you out front, because he wanted you to shine.”

At the farewell service in the Southern Region at Westphalia UMC in Upper Marlboro April 17, the Rev. Mark Venson of Ebenezer UMC in Lanham delivered the opening prayer. He cited Bishop Matthews’ journey – and how he first visited D.C. as part of his school’s safety patrol, marching as a boy in the Cherry Blossom Festival.

Venson lifted up the bishop’s gifts as a leader who brings healing and meaning to those he serves, calling him “a shepherd among shepherds. … You modeled for us what grace looks like,” he said.

Also sharing his appreciation was the Rev. Robert Rodeffer, who has been ordained for 61 years. At this service, four youth also read excerpts from the bishop’s first sermon to the annual conference session in 2013, calling on United Methodists to create prayer stations in their churches, to bring at least one person to Christ and to form a relationship with a school in their ZIP code.

Kathy Myers, of Metropolitan UMC in Indian Head, shared how her church took the challenge to be a prayer station to heart and began praying for, by name, those serving in the sheriff’s department. By chance, one morning she ran into an officer and told him her church was praying for him.

He related how just a short while ago, a man had held a gun to his head and pulled the trigger; but the gun did not fire. The officer attributed it to God.

So did Myers, who ran to her car, got her prayer notebook and discovered the officer whose life had been spared was one of those she had prayed for.

“I knew it had to be God who saved me,” he said. “God is so good. Prayer works!” Myers said, and embraced Bishop Matthews.
In the Western region, at Middletown UMC, the celebration took on the feel of a family reunion as people reminisced and sang old hymns. They thanked the bishop for “his prayer and his care.” The Rev. Edgardo Rivera, superintendent of the Frederick District, remembered when Bishop Matthews laid hands on him during ordination in 2005 in Philadelphia. Rivera remembers the bishop preaching from an old gospel song, summing up for many, his lifestyle: “Let nothing come between me and my Savior.”

At the Baltimore Region farewell worship service, the Rev. C. Anthony Hunt recalled how Bishop Matthews drew more than 270 people into the Epworth Chapel congregation in just four years as a pastor there. Throughout his ministry, Hunt said, the bishop has “led with a pastor’s heart, with wisdom and with grace.”

The Rev. Craig McLaughlin shared the story of the Gerasene demoniac and Jesus traveling with his 12 disciples across the sea to save just one man, living in a cemetery, from his demons. “I’ve been in that cemetery,” McLaughlin said. “Some people we love have been in the cemetery.”

He thanked the bishop for challenging the Church to pray, to go and tell people how good Jesus is and to adopt a school. He also thanked the bishop for a well-timed wink and mischievous smile and for helping to give him and others the courage to reach out in meaningful ministry.

At each of the sessions, the bishop, who officially retires Sept. 1, thanked those present and asked them to continue to pray each day, tell the story of Christ in their lives and reach out to children.

As part of the bishop’s legacy, members of the Baltimore-Washington Conference are collecting funds to build a fitness center at Africa University, where the bishop serves at chair of the Board of Trustees.

The Baltimore region contributed $30,587; the Western region gave $13,869; the Southern Region $46,409 and the Washington Region gave $116,291.

The conference is hoping to raise the $600,000 necessary to complete the building of the fitness center by June 3, when Bishop Matthews will be honored at a celebration at the Annual Conference Session.

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