Clergy worship service: Clearing up any confusion or misperceptions
A group of half a dozen Kentucky Annual Conference clergy spanning the ideological spectrum might not agree on the LGBTQ debate or other political matters, but one thing they do agree on: the need to worship together after being unable to during the COVID-19 pandemic. As Rev. Tami Coleman put it, “No matter our theological stance, we are all Wesleyans, and this covenant service is a reminder of what we have in common – our desire to give ourselves fully to the Lord.”
That’s the sole purpose behind the invitation extended to all clergy to gather Monday, May 2, for a worship service at Christ Church United Methodist in Louisville. (See bottom for full details.) The only motive in calling this service is to worship our Lord, they are stressing. Bishop Leonard Fairley will preach.
The six clergy who planned the service are: Coleman, Pastor at Hanson; Jean Hawxhurst, Ecumenical Staff Officer for the Council of Bishops; Phil Hill, who retired in 2021; Lisa May, Pastor at Shiloh; Matt Seel, Pastor at Petrie Memorial; and Michael Sweeney, Pastor at Maysville Central and Washington.
Bishop Fairley was eager for this communication to go out so that there was no confusion about the worship service. The date was determined in mid-March as the only day he could attend, since he currently is leading three conferences and his calendars were completely full.
To clear up any misconceptions, we reached out to the six clergy and invited them to respond via email to a series of questions. They are presented here with slight edits for clarity and style.
How did the idea for this worship service come about? What was the inspiration?
Seel: “The idea came out of a yearning for worship among our clergy who have not been together for three years.” In September 2021, he said, a group of traditional clergy across the Conference gathered, and “the biggest takeaway from that time was a desire for worship with our clergy brothers and sisters.”
Hawxhurst: “One thing we can agree on is our need to seek God and to worship in order to seek the Spirit’s moving in all our lives.”
Who was involved with the planning? How did this team form?
Seel said he and Sweeney met with the Bishop’s Operational Team, “and one of the questions we asked was who on the other side of the aisle (from the traditionalists) should we be in conversation with. We reached out to those the Bishop suggested.”
Hawxhurst: “They asked if I might find some clergy (on the progressive side) who would be willing to talk with them. They have been most gracious, and I believe the conversations in which we have shared, while not changing our opinions, have been holy and ultimately positive.”
Coleman: “This worship service came out of conversation between clergy who love the church and are seeking to understand one another. I asked to be a part of this team after it was already formed because I believe in the value of having conversation to understand each other better.”
Who all is invited to the service?
Seel: “The invitation was extended to clergy of the KAC. It has been three years since we have gathered as a whole, and we sense a deep desire to worship together.”
Coleman: “We will not turn away anyone from worship, but this invitation was extended to clergy.” She said that Sweeney put it well in a recent call: “Unlike laity who have their membership in the local church, clergy’s membership is with the Conference. There is no agenda behind this service beyond what Jean expressed – our recognition of our need to worship the Lord together.”
How was the date of May 2 decided upon? Would it have made sense to do this at the Annual Conference session being held about four weeks later?
Seel: “May 2 was one of the dates given to us by the Bishop’s office. We wanted Bishop Fairley to preach at this service. We were very intentional to want to worship together before the work of Annual Conference in June since we have not been together in three years. We hope this will be a time of focus on Jesus and fellowship before any difficult work at Annual Conference needs to be done.”
Hawxhurst: “It was important for us that our Bishop lead us in this service of worship. The hope of the planning group is that, if the service could be held prior to Annual Conference, then we might be able to arrive in Owensboro grounded in the Spirit and ready to walk the journey that now lies before us. The opportunity for worship alongside our laity brothers and sisters, of course, will continue at Annual Conference.”
Why was it decided to do the John Wesley Covenant Service?
Seel: “It is a service that reminds us of what we are to focus on and who we are called to be.”
Hawxhurst: “We hope the engagement of the Covenant Service might serve as an equal grounding for the diversity of the United Methodist vocational leaders in our Conference.
Hill: The Covenant Service “supersedes our differences and focuses us on God’s personal call upon our lives.”
Will the service be available for viewing afterward?
Coleman: “We will be meeting in the fellowship hall at Christ Church because it has screens (which the sanctuary does not).” Since only parts will be recorded, that would make cohesive viewing after the fact all but impossible.
Will attendance be taken?
It will not. As Seel said, “This is an invitation, not an expectation.”
- Compiled by Cathy Bruce and Alan Wild, Kentucky Conference Communications
THE WORSHIP SERVICE AT A GLANCE
WHO: Order of Elders, Order of Deacons, Fellowship of Local Pastors
WHEN: Monday, May 2; gathering for worship begins at 12:30 p.m. EDT, with worship at 1 p.m.
WHERE: Christ Church United Methodist (fellowship hall), 4614 Brownsboro Road, Louisville