The Little Kanawha District, Conference leaders, and family members gathered at Mt. Pleasant UMC on Saturday, July 15, to celebrate the installation of Rev. Joe Hill as District Superintendent. Recently retired Superintendent, Rick Dequasie, offered affirming words of welcome and a heart-warming prayer for Joe’s ministry among us. The special music and hymns were beautiful and stirring, and the energy of those leading worship was contagious.
Bishop Sandra Steiner Ball shared the qualities she looks for in a potential District Superintendent, and how Joe embodies these qualities. She mentioned the essential nature of regularly nurturing one’s own spirituality, and of encouraging a deep spirituality in others. Joe was affirmed as having a passion for reaching out to all people through creative ministries. In various interactions with Joe, she found him to be a constant learner, a self-starter, and a team player. The Bishop expressed confidence that Joe would be good for the Little Kanawha District and for the Conference.
Joe introduced his family and shared the important role they have played in his life. His parents and Christy were an essential part of his faith journey, and the entire family has offered a strong Christian witness along with unwavering love and support. Speaking of their support for Christy and himself, he said, “we’re here, at least in part, because we stand on your shoulders.”
As Bishop Steiner Ball continued to share her experiences with Joe and his family, it made it easy to not only welcome them, but to also affirm their gifts and look forward to our shared ministry. She mentioned how Majesty, Joe’s daughter, had scheduled an appointment with her to better understand the appointment process. She also assured us that Joe will come alongside and walk with us, always ready to ask, “How is it with your soul?” Joe committed himself to his new ministry in response to questions asked by Rich Schaffer, our Conference Lay Leader. Patsy Flensborg, Superintedency Committee Chair, led those gathered in welcoming Joe and committing ourselves to support him and do our part.
Youth from the District then presented Joe with symbols representing various aspects of his role as District Superintendent. A Bible was presented representing the need for a spiritual leader and the centrality of the Bible. Water was given representing baptism, and bread and cup representing communion. A hymnal and Book of Worship were presented as reminders of our call to “make a joyful noise”, and to worship each and every day. A bowl and towel emphasized the call to servanthood, a stole was given as a powerful reminded that we are to be yoked with Christ. A Book of Discipline was offered representing the call to help pastors and churches order themselves in life-giving ways. A globe was a reminder that “the world is our parish.”
In addition to the more traditional symbols, Joe was presented with an unusual symbol reflecting his prior ministry experience. Ice cream was presented as a reminder of the importance of our youth and children. Many smiled as they remembered the Bishop pouring ice cream upon Joe’s head at the conclusion of a successful Youth Service Fund fundraiser. A gavel symbolized the call to order the life of the church, but to do so in a respectful way while walking with one another. The final symbol, a squirt gun, was a reminder of the importance of having fun.
Joe’s message was life-giving and filled with heart. He emphasized the importance of each person and shared that the only acceptable follow up to “I am just…”, is “…a child of God.” A large part of his motivation to become a pastor came from his not wanting anyone to go through life thinking God didn’t want them. Joe has a passion to see each person know the depth of God’s love, and he strives to see the original blessing of God’s image in every person he meets.
Joe stressed that he believes in us and in the Church. He encouraged us to deeply invest in and engage with people, becoming a conduit for the Spirit to move in their lives. Joe referred to our call to be “a spiritual breath of fresh air”, and lamented that many are suffocating. He shared that as long as we feel unsafe sharing our hurts and struggles in church, until we are able to find healing there, we will continue to seek that healing in dark places that lead us away from life. His hope is that we will continually become more and more of a place where we can be who we are, a bunch of imperfect people desperately relying upon the great assurance of the love of Jesus Christ. If we look around and find that people are still suffocating, then either we, the Church, aren’t breathing in, or we aren’t breathing out.
Are we really making room in our lives for the Holy Spirit to move and to fill us, or are our breaths shallow ones that allow us to remain in control? That is the essence of sinfulness, when in a variety of circumstances we say me instead of God. There is great danger in telling the Spirit to blow somewhere else, for it will and we will wonder what happened to the wind in our sails. It is up to us to spend much time in stillness before God, and to hold many things loosely, including our church buildings. The division and conflict within our church and world is a result of holding on to the wrong things too tightly. We need to breathe deeply, to determine what is getting in the way and remove it, and to breathe out into a needy world in a way that is life-giving. In closing Joe assured us we could count on him to be our friend, a friend who would love us enough to encourage us to become the people we are called to be.
There seemed to be a seamless flow from Joe’s message into our sharing in Holy Communion. Majesty then blessed us with her gifts as she shared a musical benediction. All of our worship together was a blessing, a time of hope and encouragement. In the midst of fears and discouragement, we were reminded of who we are and of God’s call upon our lives. We celebrated these truths, the power of God in our midst and in our lives, and the potential that is ours as children of God. I left our time together encouraged and uplifted. I left with a clearer vision of the hope that is ours in Christ, and with a greater determination to share that hope with those who are suffocating and lost in darkness.