On Sept. 12, five women and three men will be ordained as Elders in the Baltimore-Washington Conference of The United Methodist Church, and three women and five men will be commissioned as provisional clergy members.
Bishop LaTrelle Easterling will lay her hands on these pastors as she recites the sacred liturgy and offers prayers of hope and promise.
The circumstances surrounding this sacred rite, however, will be anything but normal. Loved ones, other clergy, and congregations will be watching from afar as the ordination service will not be held in a hotel ballroom or a large church. The service begins at 6 p.m. EDT.
Yes, it will be live-streamed over the Internet as in years past. But this class of ordinands and provisional members come to the church in an interesting season: the coronavirus has forced people out of their church buildings, questions of racial justice divide the nation, the denomination faces a splintering over homosexuality, and fewer than half of young adults in the US describe themselves as Christians. In an effort to maintain social distancing and acknowledge some of our new-normals for worship during this season, the ordination service will be partially pre-recorded (with the ordinands and commissioners providing parts of the liturgy), while the actual commissioning and ordination elements of the service will be live.
Because of COVID-19, the ordination ceremony itself will be held outside the Mission Center in Fulton. Conference leaders have created a safe, social-distanced plan for the ordination to happen. And yes, even during a pandemic, hands will physically touch heads, although they will be hands belonging to sponsors or family members.
It’s an unprecedented time for ministry, but those now becoming clergy leaders within the Conference feel “a sense of privilege and responsibility that is not to be taken lightly. I am in this for life,” said the Rev. Walter Jackson of Chase UMC in Middle River.
Each of the soon-to-be Elders is responding to a deep, life-transforming call. The Rev. Monica Raines, of Christ UMC in Washington, D.C., enters the ministry provoked by all the questions her reading of the Bible prompted. In college, she began reading and exploring answers. “I felt the power of God to start encouraging and praying for others,” she said. “After a while, I couldn’t fight it any longer.”
Daniel Breidenbaugh of Fallston UMC in Fallston, believes it was people from his home churches of Fork and Waugh UMCs, along with experiences on the program staff at West River Camp, that enabled him to feel God nudging, inspiring, and equipping him for ordained ministry.
The Rev. Lorraine Brown (Cross) of Mt. Gregory and Simpson UMCs believes her first call to ministry, into nursing, was a foundation that allowed God “to lead and entrust me to use my gift and talents to minister to people through Word, order sacrament and service.”
The Rev. Dana Jones of Mount Olive UMC in Prince Frederick, grew up as the grandson of a licensed Methodist preacher in a poor tobacco farming community. “Our church community was composed of a few Black landowners, but largely sharecroppers – persons who worked hard but advanced very little. It was slavery 2.0,” Jones said.
He has pastored a church for eight years while working bi-vocationally for seven of those years. “Faith in God has shaped my work,” Jones said. “God is calling for us to be one people – offering dignity, respect, and opportunity for all.”
Those being ordained tend to agree with Jones that “the church is to be built on truth, not our assumptions or thoughts about the way things ought to be.”
They recognize that the church they are called to lead is facing challenges. But, “we are so anxious about saving the local church that we are not focused on making disciples. That is God’s first call to the church,” Raines said.
“For us to be about the Missio Dei (the Mission of God) we cannot allow divisions to be maintained and nurtured through age-old statements such as ‘that’s how it’s always been,’” Brown said.
“We are in a place in our history where the church is in need of creativity and ingenuity to redefine our disciple-making process,” said Breidenbaugh. “It can be scary at times to think of the future, but what an opportunity for those here and now to have a part in sharing what the church of the future can look like.”
For the ordinands, said Jackson, this means they must “fear God and keep the Lord’s commandments.”
Each of them, like Jones, is praying for “continued discernment to stay in the will of God.”
“I pray for God’s guidance,” Breidenbaugh said, “that I will never lose focus of those things important to God.”
2020 Class of Ordinands
Lorraine Brown (Cross)
Alison Thomas DeLeo
Katie O’Hern Hamilton
Walter Daniel Jackson, III
Dana M. Jones
Irance Reddix McCray
2020 Class of Provisional Members
William Raymond Carpenter, Jr.
Michael Anthony Carrington, Jr
David G. Norton
Emily Elizabeth Bostic Skorupinski
During the ordination service, David Kennedy, of Capitol Hill UMC, will be commissioned as a Home Missioner.