Annual Conference has just ended. It was a bitter sweet experience this year, involving the most personal and spiritual change since my ordination.
This was my first conference as Conference and Board of Ordained Ministry Registrar. Part of my responsibilities were to deliver the Business Report to the Clergy session of the Conference. As I waited for the session to begin, I was seated next to Rev. Ted Walter, who had held this position (and may others) when I was a child and early in my ministry. It was humbling being beside someone who made this job look so easy and effortless, and realize that I was following in his example. I suddenly became aware of the ground shifting beneath me.
Part of my report included the reading of the names of ministers who have died since the last session of Annual Conference. I was doing well until I read the names of my mentor, the Rev. Jerry James, and the Rev. Ed Mainous who helped me complete my first set of charge conference reports. Again I felt a shift in the ground beneath me.
My father, Rev. Athon Arant, Sr., also retired from active ministry after 34 years of service at this annual conference. I had been asked to assist the retirees as they made their way to be recognized by the Bishop. I still can’t explain my feelings of helping my father and mother to the stage. Then I was helping another relative, Rev. Forrest Mixon, who entered the ministry with my father and has always been a spiritual teacher. Before I could stop and reminisce, I was helping one my first superintendents, Rev. Ed McDowell, who taught me what it meant to be part of a connectional ministry. Glancing from him down the line of retiring clergy I saw so many others who helped form me spiritually. Men and women whose ministry are responsible for helping me answer my calling and find my ministry. Once again I felt the ground shift beneath me.
Monday evening I had the honor of participating in the ordination service. It was my pleasure and responsibility to read the names of minsters being commissioned as provisional elders during the ordination service as they are really just beginning their ministry. I found my self thinking back to my ordination, with Bishop Spain, Rev. McDowell, my father and Rev. James laying hands on me. The ground beneath almost felt as if it were about to fall away.
I found myself thinking back to Abraham and then Isaac. Then my mind wandered to Jacob and Joseph…Elijah and Elisha, Daniel, and finally Jesus and the disciples. God has been at work forever, leading up to this day. But this day is not the end, it’s only part of the story. As God has entrusted all these who have gone before to be in ministry, I have also been entrusted and equipped. As I honor my calling, others are being raised up by God to follow me. This is not my story, this is God’s.
On Wednesday, another bitter sweet moment took place as I was appointed to a new congregation. For the last seven years I have worked side by side with some great people to start a new congregation that is focused on bringing people to Christ. I have been their first and only pastor. Now I will simply be their first pastor, because God has raised up another great leader and personal friend to carry the torch from here. As I prepare to become the next pastor at Pendleton and Rev. Lane Glaze the next pastor at Waters Edge I am reminded that the moving beneath my feet is not the ground shifting, but God moving. It’s my job to hold on tight and keep moving with God.