Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Ordination in the United Methodist Church

As promised earlier, here are some notes on the meaning of ordination in the church. Above is a picture of someone being ordained last week at Annual Conference. The Bishop ordains pastors.

As you can see in the picture above, our Bishop is Mary Virginia Taylor on the left; beside her is Bishop Robert Spain who preached the Ordination sermon and now assists in the ordination. The person kneeling is the one being ordained. Behind him is a pastor/friend who assists the bishop.

The act of Ordination is a “laying on of the hands” by those in authority to convey authority to the newly ordained person. "Laying on of the hands" is about giving the Holy Spirit.

We Methodists have never been that particular about apostolic succession, and yet we do stand in line with all those who have been ordained before us all the way back to the apostles and Jesus. We believe that every baptized Christian is a minister, an ambassador of Jesus Christ in the world, doing the priestly work of reaching out in Christ’s name. In baptism and confirmation, in the tradition of the church, we lay hands on someone and set them aside to be disciples of Jesus Christ. Think of it, all the way back to Jesus who laid hands on the disciples, and the apostles who laid hands on others, and John Wesley who laid hands on his preachers, to this day, we stand in the line of those who came before.

In ordination, a pastor is told to “take authority”. Elders are ordained to preach the word, administer the sacraments, order the life of the congregation and serve in the world. A Deacon is ordained to service and may serve in specific areas like youth or music ministry, for example. Ordained people have been educated and trained and have now taken on the responsibility of being a pastor in the church. At ordination the stole is placed around the neck to symbolize the “yoke of Christ”. Jesus says: “Take my yoke upon you…”

There are some who serve in the United Methodist Church who are not ordained. They are local pastors who serve under appointment of the Bishop and serve only in that congregation. Elders and Deacons have a ministry to anyone, anywhere.

Elders promise to go where they are sent and are therefore promised to always have a place of service. Deacons arrange for their own work and the Bishop affirms it. The Church (big C) has always set aside persons for the role of pastor in the church. You have two ordained Elders (Senior pastor and Associate pastor) at Bethel.

After extensive testing and investigation, education and training, persons go before a body of their peers ( the Board of Ordained Ministry) to answer any questions about doctrine, belief, or practice. After they pass the Board, they are ordained at Annual Conference and sent out to serve the church in the world. To be ordained means to be “set aside” for a particular purpose. I am proud to be an ordained pastor in the United Methodist Church. Blessings! Dave Nichols

Monday, June 14, 2010

Annual Conference- Last Day

As most of you know, I came home from Conference on Saturday night so I could preach on Sunday at Spirit Song and at the 10:55 service. Stacey Beeler spoke at and Greg Force led the 8:45 traditional service; they did a wonderful job. I just felt that I wanted to be in Spartanburg rather than Florence. I also wanted to be here so that I could lead the church in wishing Charlie Graves a happy 90th birthday.

Yesterday the SC Annual Conference concluded its business by passing the budget for another year which included some increase, around 3%. Things were trimmed over the last few years, as in the local church, due the economic downturn. This year, we upped the DS salaries which had been cut last year. We also added a new staff person, a Comptroller, to the staff in Columbia. The reason is that we were paying some $55,000 dollars for an outside audit each year. So, we will hire someone who can stay on top of it in-house.

Conference was scheduled to end around noon, but because of some extended debate about the resolutions, they ended around five pm. Annual Conference ended, as it always does, with the fixing of appointments. Each pastor is appointed/sent to their place of service. I will return for my fifth year. My associate, David Smith, will return for his ninth year.

This "fixing" of appointments is an old Methodist tradition. Back before my time, some tell of not knowing where they were going for the next year until Annual Conference. District Superintendents would approach you at Annual Conference to tell you where you were going and then the Bishop would read each appointment (in SC there are 800 pastors) one by one. Pastors left Annual Conference to return to tell their families and their churches what was going to happen.

Over my ministry, we have developed something called "consultation". Each year the District Superintendent meets with each pastor and hears from each church via the Staff-Parish Committee and then makes a decision about whether the pastor moves or stays. If there is agreement all around, then usually that agreement is honored. However, we all know how it works. The longer a Methodist pastor stays in an appointment the greater the chance that he/she will be at least considered for a move. In our system, when one pastor retires, dies, or is otherwise moved, another plus several others must be moved to make it work. We are so excited to be returning for another year to Bethel.

I will comment some this week on the meaning of "ordination" in our church and the Annual Conference.

Dave Nichols

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Annual Conference- Day Three

Saturday morning began as did each morning with morning prayer and Holy Communion. Business followed as we finished up the nominations and election of officers for the Annual Conference. Late in the morning we honored those pastors who were retiring from the work. Mandatory retirement is age 72. Some were close to that age; others were much younger. 39 clergy retired. Time was given for each one to say something about what their ministry has meant to them. It was recorded and played for the Conference. At the conclusion of that presentation, one of the retirees, Rev. Paul Rogers, passed the mantle to one of the younger clergy, quoting from the Old Testament. As Elisha followed Elijah, he prayed that God would give him a double share of Elijah’s spirit.

After lunch we gathered back at the Florence Civic Center for the memorial service. This service of worship is a time when we remember the saints who have died since last Annual Conference. These are pastors, and pastor’s spouses. Every year that passes I know more and more in this group. Two of them were especially close to me. The families of the deceased gathered for the service and sat at the front. At the conclusion of the service we greeted them in love.

As you can see this day was an emotional day as some of our pastors came to the end of the service to the conference, but not the end of their calling. As we remembered those who had died, it was a very moving time of remembrance.

After dinner break, the Service of Ordination was held. I’ll talk more about Ordination later.


Dave Nichols

Annual Conference- Day Two

The second day, Friday, was a half day of business with reports from places like Spartanburg Methodist College. We are fortunate to have two of the four United Methodist Colleges in South Carolina in Spartanburg. The other one here is, of course, Wofford College. We also have a college in Orangeburg: Claflin. And, Columbia College in Columbia. All four are part of the great Methodist emphasis on education.

The new President of Spartanburg Methodist College spoke about SMC and the other colleges as well.

Other reports followed in the morning hours. The afternoon was spent as part of the day of service as delegates scattered all over Florence to do some act of service.

In the evening there was a special worship service.

Dave Nichols

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Annual Conference - Day One

This morning, June 10, I picked up Phillip Stone, one of our lay delegates to Annual Conference at 7:15am. Phillip is not only one of our lay delegates from Bethel, he is also the Wofford College Archivist and the S.C. Conference United Methodist Archivist. As such he knows a lot about Methodism is SC. If you’re looking for someone to do an interesting program for your Sunday school class or group, Phillip is glad to share what he knows about Methodism.

We left Spartanburg about 7:30am and had a nice drive down to Florence Civic Center. We got to Florence about 10am in time to register for the Annual Conference. Every delegate, lay and clergy, signs in and gets a name tag which allows them to be on the floor of the conference to vote.

After registering, I went to the Clergy session and Phillip went to the lay orientation session. The lay folk talk about procedure and process which is helpful mostly if you’ve never been to Annual Conference before. And, every year there are some who are at Conference for the first time.

The Clergy session is about voting on persons who will be ordained deacon and elder during Annual Conference. After months of writing papers, and answering questions about their theology and beliefs, and years of study, candidates now stand before their clergy brothers and sisters for the final examination. They must answer questions from the bishop, questions that have been asked of every Methodist pastor since John Wesley, founder of Methodism. Clergy take vows of membership in the Annual Conference and Ordination. Clergy promise to go where the bishop sends them; they promise to uphold the doctrine and teachings of the church. They promise to let nothing come between them and their service to Jesus Christ and his church. Today we approved 42 people to serve as pastors in the church. 39 clergy were approved for retirement. We stood in honor of the ones who died since last Annual Conference.

By this time, it was lunch time. The afternoon session started at 2pm with a worship service. The bishop preached. Business started at 3pm after a short break. During this session we organized for the week, and had a first reading of the budget. At this reading, only questions can be asked. Some expressed concerns and asked questions about raising the budget when local churches are struggling still in this economy. We were welcomed to Florence by the Mayor of Florence and by church leaders. We hear the first reading of nominations for leadership in the Annual Conference.

Time ran short; so, we extended the meeting time until about 6pm. I went to dinner with my friend Paul Harmon to his Lutheran Seminary Alumni meeting. It was a delightful time with others who had gone to Lutheran. Tomorrow night, Paul will go with me to my Duke Divinity School dinner.

The evening session was a worship service.

Dave Nichols

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Annual Conference Time Again

Many of you already know that the United Methodist Church is organized in Conferences. When John Wesley founded Methodism, he believed that "conferencing" was a uniquely Christian meeting for prayer, planning and seeking the will of god. There was no such thing as "solitary" religion for John Wesley.

The largest and most far-reaching conference for us is the General Conference which meets every four years, during a presidential election year, to write the Book of Discipline which is our covenant for our common life together as Methodists. Most of the Book of Discipline cannot be changed or altered- beliefs, doctrine, etc. Still as we grow, hopefully together, every four years there are things that need to be updated or changed. So we sent clergy and lay delegates to the General Conference to plan, pray and seek God's will for us in the next four years. People from all over the world will be at this meeting or conference.

Jurisdictional Conference is next. It also meets every four years. The Jurisdictional Conferences are regional. So, we are in the Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference the home base of which is Lake Junaluska. Just as General Conference plans ministry for our church in the whole world, the jurisdictional conference plans ministry in the region. It also elects bishops. When active bishops die or retire, we elect new bishops (clergy who are Ordained Elders). Bishops are bishops for life. They never come back to the local church.

Each Jurisdiction (region) has within it several Annual Conferences which meet annually (duh!). Annual Conferences are geographical areas over which a bishop presides. Ours is easy to remember. We are in the South Carolina Conference. Our bishop is Mary Virginia Taylor.

Our Annual Conference meets in Florence, SC. Each local church sends the clergy (David Smith and I) plus lay members to annual conference as representatives. Since we are a large church we are asked to send five lay members.

Annual Conference will set a budget and elect officers for the next year. At Annual Conference, the bishop will ordain deacons and elders to serve the church. We will celebrate successful ministries and we will plan others. We will share in worship and prayer and planning. Then, we will be sent out on the last day to our places of service for another year. The clergy are appointed by the bishop.

We will meet June 10-13. We covet your prayers and support as we seek God's will for us for another year of United Methodism in South Carolina.

I will blog every day about what we're doing. So, tune in for the latest info.

See you in Church!
Dave Nichols

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