Service remembers clergy, celebrates new life with baptism

June 09, 2016
Story submitted by the Rev. Pam Everhart
Pastor, Niwot UMC, Niwot, Colorado

A worship service "Celebrating the Saints, Baptism, and Communion" was held Thursday evening, June 9, at the Westin Hotel Ballroom in Westminster, Colorado. This service included not only the traditional memorial of those clergy and spouses who have died in the last year, but also the baptism of Evangeline Lillie, daughter of Rev. Bryson and Sarah Lillie. Bryson is pastor of Rinn UMC.
After a poetic invocation by Rev. Dale Fredrickson, the body spoke together the words of call, "Come to the sanctuary,  Holy Christ ....You bring the promise of new life ... We hold on because from death new life comes."
This service focused on both beginnings and endings, and the sacrament of Holy Communion. Bishop Elaine Stanovsky reminded us that our lives are from God, saying "God gives us life in our first breath and receives it back in our last breath, " and "We complete the circle, remembering at the communion table all are present without the barriers of life or death."
Rev. Dr. Richard Vickery and Rev. Annie Arnoldy led the congregation in A Time of Celebrating the Dying and the Rising of the Saints, in which 23 clergy and spouses who have died were remembered, along with longtime conference member Dr. Sally Geis and Thomas Huber, teenage son of the Rev. Jeff Huber.
Rev. Vickery reminded the body, "This is a tender hour. This is a delicate hour. This is a joyous hour" as a cup of water was poured into the baptismal font for each of the deceased persons remembered, thus creating the waters of baptism for baby Evangeline. 
As Bishop Elaine led the service of baptism, she shared with the conference that clergy are not members of local churches, but members of the annual conference, stating "You are their church and you represent the churches where they will serve."  Evangeline's grandparents, Revs. David Lillie (Heart of Longmont UMC) and Carol Lillie, asked the baptismal questions of the baby parents,  and the bishop asked the questions of the congregation.
Following the time of remembering the saints and the baptism, a message of "Healing and Hope in Life and Death" was given by the Rev. Deb Olenyik, Transitional Ministry Developer for the RMC. Rev. Olenyik told those gathered, "We come as a people proclaiming healing and hope in life and in death." Those who have gone before us have "sowed the seeds of grace,courage, commitment and faith."
She also lifted up and honored those congregations who have closed.  Rev. Olenyik shared, "that legacy and spirit now moves into other ministries and into other places. ... Endings move forward into beginnings" and so we have hope.
Rev. Jessica Rooks and Rev. Jasper Peters offered a Litany of Dying and Rising Churches, saying "We give thanks for the abundant ministry God has created and is creating" Rev. Rooks was the last pastor to serve at St. Paul's UMC Denver which recently closed and Rev. Peters will begin a new ministry Belong UMC, which will begin in the same building some time in early 2017.
Churches that recently closed that were honored for their faithful service were Debeque, Colorado, 126 years; Merritt Memorial, 114 years; St Paul's, 150 years;  and Alameda Heights, 91 years.
Candles were then lighted by the clergy who will be leading new ministries in our conference: Hilltop daughter church, Emily Flemming; Tapestry, Pat Bell; Gracia Divina, Guillermo Reyes; and Belong, Jasper Peters.
It was hard not to hear God speaking in the Service of Holy Communion that concluded this service, as thunder roared outside the conference ballroom, a reminder that we hear God all around us, in the life and in the death, in the beginning and the end.
The offering from this worship service went to Soul Repair Ministry to raise awareness of the invisible wounds of war afflicting veterans and engaging faith communities in the new ways of doing healing ministry with veterans of war.