Editor's note: This post is updated Aug. 13, 2015, to include a link to the Ordination Photo Gallery. Click here to see photos from the event. This article was updated June 16, 2015, to correct some names and add others who were inadvertently omitted in the listings of those ordained, commissioned or licensed.
DAYTONA BEACH -- Long before the ceremony began, Rose Marie Ash was in the Performing Arts Center at Bethune-Cookman University, scouting out seats.
She was ambitious.
“I’m trying to save 30 seats,” Ash said.
“My pastor is getting ordained,” she explained, referring to Bette-Jo Foster, the pastor at Curlew UMC, Palm Harbor.
Foster became a full elder of The United Methodist Church during the Friday evening ordination ceremony for men and women being licensed, commissioned and ordained during the 2015 Florida Annual Conference.
Some of those seats that Ash saved were occupied by members from Curlew UMC and some by Foster’s family.
“I’m just so happy for her, so excited,” Ash said. “She’s dynamic. She brings a lot of people to Christ.”
Ash wasn’t the only supporter on hand to applaud the men and women taking a new step in their faith journey.
Alma Manney, a member of St. Luke’s UMC, Orlando, had a special interest in four people: two from her church and two church leaders she’s worked with on issues.
The two from St. Luke’s were Edward Allen Miller, who was licensed as a local pastor, and William Earl Wold Jr., who was commissioned as a provisional elder.
Manney also wanted to see Elizabeth “Beth” Anne Bostrom and David Lee Charlton be commissioned as full elders.
“I think it’s exciting to see people realize who they are and whose they are, and (for them) to be vulnerable enough and strong enough and courageous enough to take that journey – to begin that journey and continue that journey in life.
“We need to walk alongside those people and encourage them and support them,” Manney said.
Winsom Allen of Merrell UMC, Lauderdale Lakes, was there because she wanted to witness a wonderful moment for Andrea Coretta Campbell-Byer of Village UMC, North Lauderdale.
“She’s come a long way,” Allen said of her former pastor.
Martha Gardner, from Kelly’s Chapel UMC in Miami, didn’t’ have anyone in particular in mind, but said it was important to be there, to show her support.
It’s a big moment for the ordinands and an uplifting experience, too, she said. “It really is inspiring.”
Susan Gray of St. Mark’s, Ocala, was there to be ordained as a full elder.
“I’m centered and trying to be very present in the moment,” she said shortly before the event began. “I don’t want to miss anything.”
Her road to that milestone was lengthy.
“God called me to ordained ministry 22 years ago.” Gray said. “I said, ‘Yes, Lord, as soon as my children are grown, I’ll be right there.’ ”
There may have been a two-decade delay, but Gray is confident that she ended up precisely where she was meant to be.
“Florida Conference United Methodist Church is my heart’s home. This long and winding path led me to my heart’s home, my theological home, and I love it.
“It’s like the perfect storm – in a good way. It’s the right time, it’s the right place, it’s the right conference, the right people. I love the connections and the people and the friendships I’ve made,” Gray said.
Her congregation decided to give up most of its space to accommodate Open Arms Village, a partnership of organizations that provides housing and other services for the homeless.
“My congregation is small and mighty, faithful and compassionate. ‘To show the love of God, to the least of these’ -- that is who they are,” Gray said.
Those actions fit right into the theme of Bishop Ken Carter’s message.
“God calls us, not to love our structures. God calls us to love people,” he said.
“God has a dream and God’s dream has everything to do with alleviating human suffering.”
The bishop reminded the ordinands: “Brothers and sisters, this evening you are being sent out by the church to be, in the words of Henri Nouwen, ‘a living reminder of the incarnation.’ It is a pretty awesome commission, but it is true.
“When you move into the neighborhood, God moves into the neighborhood. When you care about injustice, God cares about injustice. When you are a good shepherd, they believe that Jesus is a good shepherd. When you cross a boundary, it’s as if Jesus has crossed that boundary. And when you are interested in the lost, God is interested in the lost,” Carter said.
He urged the licensed, commissioned and ordained clergy to lose the assumption that they are taking the mission and vision of God to their next assignment.
“It is already there,” he said.
“Some woman, some man has been praying. They’ve been praying that the United Methodist Church will send them a woman or a man who is going to love their community. They’re praying that The United Methodist Church will send them a woman or a man who is going to go places in their community that the church is never going to reward them for.
“They’re just praying that someone vested with some kind of authority, with some kind of courage – they’re just praying that someone like that will see the vision with them,” Carter said.
“I do know this: In the places you’re being sent, you will discover a lay person – here or there – who loves their community. I didn’t say they love their church. I’m not talking about the person in the church that says, ‘The parish is my world.’ I’m talking about the one who says, through their actions, ‘The world is my parish.’
“This evening, the church has asked me to give you this authority,” Carter said.
“I am filled with hope for you.”
The evening's offering was designated to benefit the new Passing the Torch Endowment that will provide educational debt relief, seminary scholarships and other education and renewal grants for Florida Conference clergy.
Full connection elders
Bette-Jo Foster, David Lee Charlton, Brian Richard Johnson, Ruben Velasco, Christopher Michael Jones, Michael Stewart Briggs, Susan Carol Gray, Elizabeth Anne Bostrom and Douglas Edward McClain.
Anil Kumar Singh, Erik Paul Seise, Alan Lawrence Jackson, Rebecca Lynn Rokitowski, Rodney Andrew Weseman, Andrea Coretta Campbell-Byer, Bridget Erin Thornton, Robert Joseph Tucker, William Earl Wold Jr., Joshua Michael Beaty, Jonathan Foster Brewster and Jetro Jeune.
Full connection deacons
Jeremy James Herrington and Justin James LaRosa.
Erick Ray Ashley, Joe Edward Moxley, Robert Chaple Sanchez, David Scott Branson, MaryAnn Piccioni, Kevin Michael Johnson, Perri Bevan Martin, Frank Gremeco Adams, Emily Jane Edwards, Matthew Scott Kern, Stacey Eileen Spence, Matthew Neil Findley, Yamiley Martinez Chaple, Patina Lynn Ripkey, David Noel, Pierre LouLou Exantus, Lamont A. Hogans, Rebecca Glass Oliver, Edward Andrew Miller, David Ross Rogers, Carlos Miguel Cortes, Geoff Steven Stoff and Richard Wilson Stackhouse.
-- B.C. Manion is a freelance writer based in Tampa.