Reflection -September 12, 2016

By Darren McClellan

published 9/12/2016

Dear Friends,

Yesterday evening, I had the opportunity to participate in a service of celebrating the episcopal assignment of Bishop David William Graves at First United Methodist Church in Montgomery.  Gathered tightly in the good company of those across our Annual Conference, this particular worship experience was a first for me, and one which I shall not soon forget.  It was commonly referred to as an “installation service,” but I must confess going in that I was not exactly sure what that would entail.  I know how bishops of the United Methodist Church get nominated, elected, and appointed, but how are they “installed?”  Surely there was more to it, I thought, than the replacement of an old appliance with the new.

Indeed, there is!  Since we are dealing with people here and not machines, the genuine installation of a new bishop (as it would be for a new pastor) will take some time as relationships are developed and the foundation of trust is solidified.  Even so, the liturgy within last night’s service was a terrific start—a grand embodiment of our covenantal responsibility as leaders in this body of Christ.  For the sake of reflection this morning, there are two observations I would like to share.

First of all, Bishop Graves has assumed a massive responsibilityThis sounds obvious, I know, but rarely has it been on such full display.  As a central part of the service, each member of the cabinet joins in the procession while carrying a “sign of the episcopacy.”  At the appointed time, each of these items were presented to Bishop Graves for his reception.  They were as follows:         

Bishop Graves, receive this pastoral staff, and be upheld and sustained by Christ the Good Shepherd as you exercise the ministry of a shepherd among us in Christ’s name.

…receive this Bible, and proclaim fearlessly the prophetic Word in the cause and justice and peace for all people…

…receive this water, be renewed in your baptism and renew us in ours…

…receive this bread and cup, and keep us in communion with Christ and his Church…

…receive this towel and basin, and be among us as one who serves…

…receive this stole, and be our pastor, preacher, and teacher; encourage and support all baptized people in their gifts and ministries, and pray for them without ceasing…

…receive this Book of Discipline, guard the faith, seek the unity, exercise the discipline of the whole Church, and supervise the Church’s life, work, and mission throughout the world…

…receive this gavel, and preside in our Annual Conference; appoint pastors and assign diaconal ministers to their ministries, and guide us in our common mission of love and justice, witness and service…

As the presentations began, I have to admit that I wondered how our new bishop was going to practically carry all of those items successfully, much less the weight of each representative sign.  The prospect of seeing a reenactment of John Candy in the 1980’s movie Summer Rental quickly came to mind.  But instead of an overburdened pack mule mentality, I watched as Bishop Graves humbly received each element, and then deliberately had them placed on the altar above him.  How grateful I was for the attentive acolytes who were eager to spring into action!  Perhaps it was just a matter of good worship planning; but I believe the image was an important lesson for us all. 

Having received each item, our Bishop offered the following response:

In the name of Jesus Christ, the Head of the Church, I gladly assume, with you and among you, this ministry of Word, Sacrament, and Order, of pastoral supervision, government, and service.  Strengthened by the love of God and the remembrance of my consecration to the episcopacy, I am resolved to serve faithfully and well the congregations and people of the Alabama-West Florida Conference as bishop, pastor, and friend.

My second observation was that the “with you” of his confession is not to be overlooked.  Surely we as the members of the Alabama West-Florida Conference do not intend to pile on our expectations and then leave him to figure this all out on his own.  With his eyes fixed on Jesus as the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, Bishops Graves shall undoubtedly rely on each of us to work together in upholding the awesome responsibilities to which we are collectively called.  And not just for his installation, but more importantly for the coming Kingdom of God.

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete; be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind…Let the same mind be in you in that was in Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:1-2, 5).

As for my schedule this week, I was blessed to preach at Ashland Place UMC yesterday morning, where I had served previously as an Associate Pastor.  Today I will be visiting with pastors throughout the district.  On Tuesday and Wednesday I will be in cabinet meetings with Bishop Graves.  On Thursday I will be at Blue Lake for the Blue Lake Board of Trustees strategic planning retreat.  Then the Baypines charge conference season begins this Sunday, followed by a welcome reception for Bishop David and Nancy Graves that afternoon at Crosspoint UMC in Niceville.  I hope to see you there!

Know that I am humbled to share this work of ministry with each of you.

Grace to You,