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Bishop urges ordinands to view life, ministry as journey

Bishop urges ordinands to view life, ministry as journey

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Bishop urges ordinands to view life, ministry as journey
June 16, 2005    News media contact:  Tita Parham*    
800-282-8011     Orlando  {0314}

An e-Review Feature
By J.A. Buchholz**

LAKELAND — Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker asks those attending the service of ordination and retirement during the last session of the Florida Annual Conference Event June 2-5 to remember their baptism. Photo by Geoff Anderson, Photo #05-0192.

LAKELAND — Florida Conference Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker encouraged the four clergy being ordained elders in full connection June 5 at the 2005 Florida Annual Conference Event here to see life and their ministry as a journey.

Whitaker made the comparison between life as a trip and life as a journey.

"When we go on a trip we know exactly where we're going and what preparations to make and what to expect along the way," he said. "When we undertake a journey we may only have a general idea of where we're going or how to prepare or what to anticipate along the way."

He said many people in today's culture think of life as just a trip. "They say we shouldn't take life too seriously because it's just a quick, fun trip from birth to death, but we who are Christians believe life is really a journey," he said. "Our destination is to become like God somehow, but who knows what experiences we shall have that will enable us to arrive at that final destination."

Whitaker said failure, joy, sorrow and trust are some of the experiences encountered along the unexpected journey of "becoming like the one whose image in which we are created." He said the unexpected journey never ends — even in death — and ministry, like life, is also a journey.

Whitaker cautioned against viewing ministry as a career because it would then become more like a trip. The "plan" would include seminary preparation, appearing before the Board of Ordained Ministry, becoming ordained, "physically grasping the credentials in one's hand" and planning what to accomplish throughout the career.

"If you try to turn the ministry into a trip, rather than a journey, you will miss what the ministry is all about," he said. "Ministry is not a career. It is a calling from God. If you continue to listen to God's call, God will lead you through twists and turns, ups and downs, that you never would have anticipated."

Whitaker referred to the Book of Acts and the last journey the Apostle Paul made by ship across the Mediterranean Sea. It was during a violent storm, and the ship was wrecked.

"Well, it seems ominous to me to send you forward on your journey of ministry with the story of a shipwreck," he said. "I do not mean to alarm you. Nevertheless, there is a benefit to beginning your ministry by thinking about this tumultuous journey of the Apostle Paul."

LAKELAND — The Rev. Sandra Forkner, a deacon retiring at this year's annual conference event, passes the mantle to the Rev. Jeffrey Oglesby, who was ordained an elder in full connection during the June 5 ordination service. The passing of the mantle symbolizes the passing of the responsibilities, spirit and dedication of the older generation to a new generation in ministry. Photo by Geoff Anderson, Photo #05-0193.

Just as Paul's journey was difficult, so is the journey of ministry, Whitaker said, adding the difficulty will lessen once that reality is accepted. He said Paul's journey provides clues to help navigate the waters of ministry.

Whitaker said Paul's story is also an allegory filled with spiritual symbolisms and metaphors for the church and its life. The ship represents the church, and throughout Christian history the church has been described as a ship tossed about on the storms of time.

Whitaker said the first point "that gets our attention" is the wind blowing against the ship. Luke describes it as "the wind was against us," and in verse 14 the Greek word used to describe the wind is the word from which typhoon is derived.

"Today we must be the church when the wind is against us," he said. "We live in an age of unbelief, moral permissiveness, materialism and self indulgence ... when Christians are pressured to try to reduce the purposes of Christ to only our church life, rather than the whole life. These are the forces of secularism that would blow the Christian church aside as being either an irrelevance or indifference."

Despite those forces, Whitaker urged the ordinands not to despair because the wind is also energizing.

"Our task is to make disciples of Jesus Christ in a world that does not know him. Our task is not just to enjoy one another's company," he said. " ... If the wind were not against us, we would probably lull away our time on deck, rather than be alert at our posts."

Whitaker pointed out a second symbol found in Paul's difficult journey. The food Paul tells the men to eat represents the Eucharist.

"To be the church in a time such as this requires us to get the spiritual nourishment that we need," he said. "And the food that we need above all is the Eucharist because it is the means of grace by which Christ himself nourishes us."

LAKELAND — Youth in the T.eens L.oving C.hrist Choir from Orange Park United Methodist Church sing during the service of oridnation and retirement June 5 at the "One Body One Spirit" 2005 Florida Annual Conference Event. Photo by Geoff Anderson, Photo #05-0194.

Whitaker said additional spiritual nourishment can also be found by meditating on the Scriptures, contemplating "God's goodness and beauty," praying and having Christian conversations with others in small groups. He said all Christians need this kind of spiritual nourishment, but it is especially important to ordained ministers.

Whitaker cautioned the ordinands against becoming so preoccupied with leading and managing that they neglect their souls or the souls of those they serve.

"We cannot lead the church in difficult and dangerous times if we who are ordained ministers forget that we, too, are a part of the church that thrives by being fed by Christ himself," he said.

Referring back to the story, Whitaker said the main point that gets attention is the shipwreck. The ship ran aground and everyone on board had to swim to shore, clinging to planks and pieces of the ship, but they all made it safely.

"What matters most is that those of us in the church make it safely to the Promised Land in communion with Christ and his apostles," he said. "As you begin your ministry, your call in our time will be to help build up the church, the body of Christ, when the wind is against the church and its timbers are creaky against the strain. ... This requires a ministry of hard, constructive work, daily, year in and year out."

Whitaker said that work involves helping the church change. "All of our congregations need to go through continual change and transformation if they are going to fulfill their mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ in a changing world."

Whitaker ended his message with words of encouragement, saying ministry is a great journey with unforeseen experiences, yet it remains the most rewarding journey a person can make.

"It's the gift of God who called you, and who is able to guide you and sustain you," he said. "Bon voyage!"

This article relates to 2005 Florida Annual Conference Event.

*Parham managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Buchholz is a staff writer for e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.