Joy can be creative and disruptive as well as give us a sense of meaningful existence, Bishop Laurie said in her message, also asking how we can learn to count it all as joy, even in the midst of trials, crisis, and poverty of spirit.

The Ordering of Ministry service opened the second day of the 2019 Annual Conference Session, with Bishop Laurie Haller proposing in her sermon that one of the greatest challenges of ministry, especially for the newly ordained, is not losing our joy.

The service began with the Recognition of Common Ministry and Reaffirmation of Baptism.

“Sisters and brothers in Christ,” Bishop Laurie said, “we are all made one with the death of Jesus Christ and raised with him to walk in newness of life in the gift of baptism by water and the Spirit.”

“The same Spirit who enlivens us empowers us with many and diverse gifts to serve as new creatures, renouncing evil, embracing and submitting to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior,” she said, “and joining together as his body to serve as his representatives in the world. We all start here.”

The Ecumenical greeting from Bishop Michael Burke of the Southeastern Iowa Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church was delivered via video.

“The gift of unity that comes in Jesus Christ is real right now,” Bishop Burke said.

When his church had gathered recently, he said, they had celebrated partnerships, including with United Methodist Church.

“It’s a recognition of the reality that in Christ, we are in this together,” said Burke.

Those to be Commissioned, Ordained or Recognized were then presented. This included Course of Study graduates, one individual to be commissioned for the work of a Deacon, and another to be transferred from another annual conference, as well as those to be commissioned for the work of an Elder, and those to be ordained as Elders.

“We rejoice in the Spirit’s work in their lives and the lives of those who come to serve and lead among us,” Bishop Laurie said, the congregation responding, “We will uphold them with our prayers and support. Thanks be to God.”

The General Examination followed the recognition of the Course of Study Graduates.

Scripture for the Proclamation and Response in the service came from Psalm 30:5, James 1:2-4 and Phil 2:1-8.

Bishop Laurie offered her sermon with the theme of “The Disruption of Joy.”

“Every day, I experience joy. Do you?” she asked. “Every day I get up in the morning with a prayer on my lips and a conscious decision to seek out joy, possibility, and hope.”

“But joy seems to be in short supply these days, doesn’t it?” she added. “Especially in The United Methodist Church, where joy seems to be a bit lacking at the moment, and our denomination has made decisions around human sexuality that are threatening our oneness in Christ.”

The joy is in the call, the bishop told the congregation, sharing that in her 37th year of ministry, the joy has not left her yet.

“I love the church!” she exclaimed. “I love it when United Methodists get it right, and I love it when we mess up and then have to fix things.”

“I am filled with joy when I “see how we love each other,” the bishop said, “and I’m determined to help us change when we neglect or refuse to love others.”

Joy lies at the heart of the transformation of our individual lives into the likeness of Christ, she said, but joy is also a key aspect of the revitalization of congregations.

Having been enough local churches over the years as a pastor, district superintendent, troubleshooter, and now as a bishop, she said, she can feel if joy is present from the moment she sets foot in a church.

Bishop Laurie recalled various memories of laughter and joy in the church since she began ministry on January 1, 1982, often with humor that comes with working in ministry while raising a young family.

She recounted an instance where the collection for a major building project unexpectedly and amazingly netted exactly what was needed, a not insignificant amount.

“Pure wonder and joy!” Bishop Laurie said. “For those being ordained or commissioned today, you have a lot of joy ahead of you!”

“When you and I give ourselves away in ministry by embodying and sharing the love of Christ, joy abounds!” she said. “Joy is a deep feeling of well-being that is not dependent on the surface of life’s circumstances. Joy is rooted in God’s promises and can weather any storm. Joy is non-anxious, thankful, and filled with shalom.”

That’s what the apostle Paul was talking about in the scripture from Philippians read earlier, she added. Paul had written the letter to the believers in Philippi when he was in prison awaiting trial by the Romans when the church in Philippi had become the heart of early Christianity and was the first Christian church in Greece.

“In this letter, Paul wants to reassure the Philippians that even in prison he is experiencing joy,” the bishop said. “And Paul wants to make his joy complete by knowing that the Philippians are committed to having the same love, remaining united, and agreeing with each other.”

“Paul encourages them not to do anything for selfish purposes, but, out of humility, think of others as better than themselves,” she said. “Paul’s joy will be complete when the Christians in Philippi watch out for good of others, rather than their own good.”

People who want to know who Jesus is, who are seeking a church home, who are looking for meaning in their lives, or who want to find a way to give of themselves, are really searching for joy, Bishop Laurie told the congregation.

“But if all they see in church is grim faces, and if all they hear is complaints, and if all they experience is hardened hearts and judgment,” she cautioned, “they’re going to run the other way, aren’t they?”

The bishop told the new elders that it was a joyous day for them, coming to be ordained as full elders in The United Methodist Church.

She said, “My prayer for each one of you is that even when times are tough, you will find some joy every day of your ministry, even if it is only a sliver.”

“If joy lies at the heart of congregational life and revitalization,” Bishop Laurie continued, “which I believe it does, what, then, can we say about this joy?”

She went on to suggest three things.

“First, joy in congregational life invites humility, grace, community, and even laughter in the midst of a disconnected world,” said Bishop Laurie.

Paul tells us here in Philippians that Jesus did not consider himself to be equal with God but grounded himself in humility, the bishop said, humbly giving up his life for you and for me.

“When Paul encourages the Philippians to be of the same mind and have the same love, however, he didn’t mean that we have to agree on everything,” she added, “every last one of us is a unique, one-of-a-kind person, formed lovingly by our Creator.”

Bishop Laurie touched on the 2019 General Conference and the subsequent Judicial Council ruling, which determined the constitutionality of the petitions that were approved, saying the church continues to move forward.

“At the same time, we have to continually remind ourselves that one of the values that grounds us has to be humility,” she said. “The humility to which Christ calls us combines honesty about our differences as well as humble repentance about the way in which all of our views may stand in the need of correction.”

“But we also believe that our witness to a fractured world and our fractured denomination is enhanced when we’re willing to stay in relationship with each other,” the bishop continued, “to serve, worship, laugh, and reach out together in the midst of our differing views.”

“For those of you being ordained and commissioned, I hate to burst your bubble,” Bishop Laurie stated, “but none of you will ever pastor a church where everyone agrees with each other or agrees with you.”

“So, even when the going gets tough in ministry,” she said, “don’t take yourself too seriously and encourage your congregations to laugh as well as cry, to risk reaching out rather than holding back, and to lead with humility as well as joy.”

The bishop’s second thought about joy was that in congregational life joy invites hope in the search for wholeness and purpose.

“I am convinced that innate in every human being is the desire to be connected with God and with each other,” she stated. “The hope that you and I experience in Christ empowers us to be difference makers in our communities, in Iowa, and around the world. Together, we advocate for immigration reform and pray that the refugees at our southern border will be treated humanely whether they receive asylum or have to turn back.”

We pray for those affected by the tragic flooding in Iowa and other natural disasters, she said, listing other prayer needs, including victims of sexual assault and human trafficking; those who are unemployed or underemployed; those struggling to make it from paycheck to paycheck; those without adequate health insurance, and those who have lost all hope for a better life.

“Joy offers the hope that instead of each of us watching out for our own good, we will watch out for the good for all,” said Bishop Laurie.

She cited an executive coach and former parishioner of her regarding joy, saying, “Joy is not a state of continuous happiness. It is not the absence of adversity. Rather, joy is the result of a rewarding, fulfilling life of service to others.”

“Steve, Heather, Andrew, Craig, Edgar, and those being commissioned or licensed, your ministry is not always going to be fun,” the bishop explained.

“You will take stands with which others will not agree, and you will challenge your parishioners when they want to stay the same,” she said. “You will be the face of Christ when dealing with tragedy, and you will be the heart of Christ as you work through conflict. You will never please everyone, but please don’t lose your hope!”

Her third thought related to joy was that in congregational life joy invites disruption.

She recalled speaking about Gregory Ellison, the founder of Fear+less Dialogue during the Opening Worship service the day prior.
Ellison is a Dialogues and Associate Professor of Pastoral Care and Counseling at the United Methodist Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta.

Bishop Laurie shared that one of Ellison’s mantras is, “Once you see, you cannot not see.”

“Once you see, you cannot not see,” she repeated.

“Greg continually impressed upon us the importance of seeing other people as they truly are, with their all hopes, dreams, needs, and flaws,” said Bishop Laurie.

She shared an anecdote of Ellison’s about his growing up as an African-American boy in the south, quoting Ellison stating:

“This may come as no surprise to you, but I was a strange child who asked big questions. After all, I was raised in the home of activists, and I walked in the hills of Atlanta in the shadows of the Martin Luther King Jr. Center. In all her wisdom, my Aunt Dotty was unalarmed when I, at eight years old, asked how I could change the world. Honoring my boyish justice impulse, she responded, ‘Baby, I don’t know how to change the world, but I can change the three feet around me.’”

“And so can you,” Bishop Laurie told the congregation.

One of the emphases in Dr. Ellison’s teaching is that joy is a creative and disruptive encounter, she explained.

“Joy disrupts hopelessness,” she said. “Joy disrupts despair. Joy disrupts complacency. And joy disrupts fear with fear+lessness.”
Ellison spells “fear+less” with a plus sign between “fear” and “less,” the bishop explained.

“Fear+less,” then, means that when you and I are in connection and relationship with those who are not like us, whether, across lines of race, gender, class, or sexual orientation, we fear less,” she said. “Joy is the creation of space where there is positive disruption, and we speak truth to circumstances.”

“Dr. Ellison reminds us that we don’t need to fear “the other” because disruptive joy empowers us to see others for who they are, precious children of God,” Bishop Laurie told those gathered for the ordination service.

“Where have you seen the disruption of joy in the church and in your ministry?” she asked. “Can you remember times when joy disrupted the status quo by speaking to hopelessness and despair and calling you to act fearlessly?”

“Will you disrupt with your joy,” she asked as well, “not just to feel good but to create pockets of resistance where we are called to act and ensure that all people belong?”

“And for everyone here today,” the bishop added. “Once you bump into joy in your congregation, it alters your existence, reorients your path, and reinvigorates how you think about your church and your neighbors.”

“Even though you may not be able to change the world,” she said, “you can change the three feet around you.”

Bishop Laurie shared how Johann Sebastian Bach is who taught her the most about joy, and also Swedish film director Ingmar Bergman’s embrace of Bach’s concept of joy, to illustrate the idea of, “A joy in God”

“Steve, Heather, Andrew, Craig, Edgar, and those bring commissioned and licensed,” she said. “To lose one’s joy is to lose one’s soul.”

“Have you been there?” the bishop asked. “If not you probably will at some point. Have you ever said, “I’m about to lose my joy.” I’ve been there.”

“This calling of ministry is not easy, my friends,” the bishop said. “There will be times when you will want to just quit or run away. Yet the promises of God remain.”

Holding on to joy is no easy thing in our professional lives as clergy, she added, let alone in our congregations and the world.

“Yet joy is about believing in the goodness of a God who is so preoccupied with loving you and me and our world that all we can do is shake our heads and smile,” said Bishop Laurie. “Without joy, that ability to connect with and share the good news of the God of community, hope, and courage, we are left, in the words of James Wall, “with only the hollow certainty of the world’s measured reality.”

Who will teach the world about joy? she asked.

“If not us, who?” Bishop Laurie questioned. “If not now, when?”

“In the end, it’s never numbers, size, or success that brings joy in pastoral ministry,” she stated. “The joy is in the call. The vocation of ministry professionals is to create congregations of joy who shape and empower followers of Jesus Christ to claim, hold on to, and witness to their own joy in the midst of a seemingly dark and disconnected world.”

Who will teach our children and youth about joy? asked Bishop Laurie, and who will teach The United Methodist Church about joy?

“Will you allow yourself to be disrupted by joy in the days ahead so that you can change the three feet around you?” she queried those to be ordained and commissioned. “For joy disrupts unhealthy patterns of behavior that exclude; joy disrupts loud voices that intentionally drown out quieter voices, and joy transforms enemies into neighbors.”

She continued, asking, can you and I experience a joy that inspires us to love Jesus so much that we are willing to listen carefully, see each person as a unique child of God, love fearlessly, and move together into the future courageously? And will we experience a joy that no matter what happens, the Holy Spirit will be there hovering among us, urging us on to adopt the attitude of humility that was in Christ Jesus?

Addressing every candidate by name, Bishop Laurie told them, “You are living in a history-making time in the UMC and still you said yes to ministry.”

“I’m amazed at your call,” she told them.

“My prayer for each one of you is that will experience an outpouring of disruptive joy in the days ahead, as you advocate for the very least of your brothers and sisters,” said the bishop. “May you create spaces of joy and laughter in the three feet around you and within your community in order to welcome people with different ideas.”

“May you lay aside your own preoccupations to be fully open to the movement of God in your midst,” she said. “And may you pray for a disruptive joy that reaches out to the margins, empowers others to become who God created them to be, and transforms all of us in the process.”

“Baby, I don’t know how to change the world, but I can change the three feet around me,” Bishop Laurie stated, again quoting Ellison’s grandmother. “May each one of you count it all joy as you change the three feet around you!”

After the bishop’s sermon came the Ordering of Ministry for Provisional Members and Elders. This included the Examination for Candidates for Commissioning and the Commissioning of Provisional Members.

For the latter, provisional member candidates came forward for the laying on of hands. The bishop approached them, hands uplifted, praying to the Holy Spirit o come upon them.

After this, the Examination of Elder Candidates took place and then the Laying of Hands for Candidates for Ordination.

Following this was the Washing the Feet of Newly Ordained Clergy.

Before the washing, the bishop stated, “When Jesus stooped to wash the feet of his disciples, we see how the hands of God take up our burdens and cleanse our hearts. Through washing another’s feet, we commit ourselves to lives of service, in the spirit of Christ, who took on human form, humbling himself in cross-bearing service to others. By kneeling and washing, we express the love which serves human needs, both within our fellowship and outside this place.”

As the Bishop washed the feet of each newly ordained elder, the congregation sang the hymn Jesu, Jesu.

The Offering was received for Mount Hope UMC in Lansing Michigan, followed by the Offertory, Thanksgiving and Communion, the Invitation to the Table and Peace, and the Confession and Pardon.

At this point, Bishop Laurie recognized Jonathon Cooney, who is transferring from another annual conference to the Iowa Annual Conference. As the congregation applauded, the bishop stated, “In the United Methodist Church the table is open to all.”

Bishop Laurie led the congregation in The Great Thanksgiving, which reaffirmed that we all belong to the Triune Go, following by the Sharing of the Bread and Cup.

At the conclusion of the Ordering of Ministry service, before the dismissal, blessing and recessional hymn Go Make a Difference, Bishop Laurie briefly addressed the congregation.

“Wow,” she said. “What a morning.”

“The Holy Spirit is moving,” the bishop said. There’s joy in this place. I pray that you go out into the world to make a difference, whatever you do.”

Course of Study graduates:

  • Bruce A. Smith
  • Catherine Joan Nutting
  • Daniel Dean Grauer
  • Donald Edward Timmerman
  • Erling Matthew Shultz
  • Frederick C. Hawkins

Commissioned for the work of a Deacon:

  • Elizabeth Sarah Botsford

Transferred from another annual conference:

  • Jonathon Cooney

Commissioned for the work of an Elder:

  • Luann Benge
  • Laurel Alice Capesius
  • Jordan Denae Derhammer
  • Lucas Stephen Richard Fillmore
  • Mark Richard Johnson
  • Jaeseong Lee
  • Kristina R. Roth
  • Brian Edward Williams

Ordained as Elders:

  • Steven Martin Braudt
  • Heather Streicher Dorr
  • Andrew Richard Thomas Happ
  • Craig Michael Luttrell
  • Edgar F. Solis Romero