Service of Commemoration and Holy Communion
By Rev. Andy Call*
In keeping with tradition, the 49th session of the East Ohio Annual Conference began with a Service of Commemoration and Holy Communion in Hoover Auditorium. As the conference centered their hearts and minds in God’s presence, dancers from Lorain Wesley UMC carried in symbols of our covenantal life: the light of Christ, the water of baptism, the bread and the cup.
Bishop Tracy S. Malone called the Conference to order and we reminded ourselves in song that “out of all the Lord has brought us by his love.”
We turned our minds to remembering loved ones and friends gone on to their eternal reward as we sang “through gates of pearl streams in the countless host singing to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost: Alleluia!” As the names of members of the annual conference, spouses, laity, and families were recalled, we observed a time of remembrance with the tolling of the bell and lighting of candles. And we prayed together that we might be faithful to God’s call and to the memory of these beloved saints.
Bookended by reflective musical offerings by the Conference choir, led by director Dr. Grant Cook III and organist Lavert Stuart, Bishop Malone preached the Word of God from Hebrews 12:1-3. Taking inspiration from the hymn “Pues si vivimos,” she exhorted the gathered community to remember that, living or dying, we are in Christ Jesus. The description in Hebrews 12 of the great cloud of witnesses immediately precedes the injunction to “run with perseverance the race set before us.” The bishop likened that description to watching her daughter Ashley running for her high school track team at GlenOak High School, describing the elation of cheering Ashley to do her very best to the way our departed saints are cheering all of us along the race of faith.
What is this race to which we have been called? It begins at our baptism, in the covenant we make to accept the freedom and power God gives us to reject evil, injustice, and oppression, and through grace to live after the example of Jesus Christ. She charged us to love the world the way God loves the world – not through condemnation, but self-giving. The church is not, itself, the mission, but the instrument of salvation. We are to run the race seeking after not what we want, but what God wants. To be who God made us to be, we must follow the lead of Christ and those who have gone before us, to live our calling.
We approached Christ’s table using inviting and expressive communion liturgy adapted from Samuel Wells of St. Martin in the Fields and the stirring musical responses by Mark A. Miller. As an added dimension to the great unifying meal of our faith, the bread was all hand-made by Susan Fury and the grape juice grown and produced by Carol Schmittkons, laypersons from the Firelands District.
Inspired by the Word, filled with the Holy Spirit and the living presence of Christ, we concluded our time of worship, ready to begin the business of the Annual Conference.
*Rev. Andy Call is pastor of Church of the Saviour UMC in Cleveland Heights.