Thursday, January 23, 2014

Commissioning New Ministries: Exploring a recent ritual and blessing

Worship with Rev. Dr. Sheldon Hurst (at the left, red stole), the congregations in song and guest clergy, including retired Field Minister Rev. Kathleen Davie.  (PHOTO: Jerrod Hugenot, with iPhone panorama setting)
In the Adirondack Association, the Rev. Dr. Sheldon Hurst completed his ministry with the Village Baptist Church of Fort Edward, NY.  In addition to his pastoral work with Village Baptist and earlier at the First Baptist Church of Glens Falls, NY, Dr. Hurst served as faculty and administration with the Adirondack Community College.   As he and his wife depart for Portland, Sheldon does not see this ending of a pastorate as "retirement".  (Indeed, the word was not brought up on his last Sunday!)   Instead, Sheldon invited congregants and colleagues to gather with the Village Baptist congregation to celebrate where his ministry is going next.   Further, the Village Baptist Church and the FBC Glens Falls congregation will begin a mutual search and call process, seeking pastoral leadership while maintaining their own churches in two close-by communities.

As the Associate Executive Minister, I was asked to give a word of blessing for Sheldon's ministry in New York State while affirming his journey is continuing with new opportunities (and spoiling grandchildren).  As we Baptists have no formal liturgy book, often such matters call for some creativity in crafting words for such an occasion. 

Here's what I said:

To commission is to give an order or to authorize.   For Baptists, we tend to cringe when somebody wants to tell us what to do, yet we don’t mind a bit when we get to tell somebody else to do something.

Yet, when we turn ourselves away from the mundane and toward matters divine, we remember that “commissioning” is a powerful and sacred moment in the life of the Church when we bless and send forth our brothers and sisters to the work God has called them to do.

Just as the local church who helped Sheldon hear his call to ministry, just as the congregations Sheldon served heard his call, your church here has called Sheldon not once but twice to be your pastor and to share his gifts and graces for the sake of Christ and the Church.

So, just as God keeps calling Sheldon to the work of ministry, so we continue commissioning Sheldon to his next steps in ministry.

Let us say the words of commission found in your bulletin (written by Dr. Hurst):
We commission W. Sheldon Hurst:   Go forth from this place!

In Soul Freedom
▪  Create an Interspiritual Life and Ministry:
▪  Give your attention to the Spirit’s work in prayer & meditation & contemplation.
▪  Serve as an Interfaith Spiritual Director. 
▪  Engage the Creative Spirit of the Divine moving among all people everywhere.
▪  Integrate spirituality & the arts & poetry.

A prayer of commission will be offered in a moment.  May I ask all who are comfortable please to stand and move toward the center aisle.   My hope is in laying hands upon Sheldon, we keep close together, from the pews to the midst of the gathered people.  Thus, in good Baptist fashion, we pray for Sheldon as well as the congregations of Ft Edward and Glens Falls, who are beginning the process of calling a pastor together, to share ministry and deepen in their relationship as sister congregations.   When a pastor departs, the congregation remains, so let your future be embraced with joy and with the foreknowledge that whatever awaits, God’s hand is in the midst of things, leading us toward the assurances of new challenge, new life and new delight awaiting you.

Let us pray:

O God who calls and commissions, may we, your gathered people, hear your call and commission anew in our lives.   You call us over the tumult of our lives, over the cacophony of the world, summoning us to the pathways you have for us to travel.  We pray for Sheldon, as he begins a new chapter in his ministry and good wisdom in his stewarding the gifts you have kindled for many years now within him.  We pray for the two congregations, that they embrace the new and the changing times ahead of them, so that they rise up in faithfulness with renewed mission and ministry here in this area. Whether it be by way of Portland or in sharing together ministry in new and mutual ways, may we be all pilgrims along the way of Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray, AMEN.

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