Clergy and Spouses Remembered at Annual Conference

By Audrey Stanton-Smith

More than 70 clergy and surviving spouses who passed away since the Annual Conference in 2019 were named and remembered Friday evening in a Memorial Service at the chapel on the campus of West Virginia Wesleyan College.

“Tonight we follow our ancestors by turning toward and not away from lament,” said Rev. Mark Conner, explaining that small stones dropped into a baptismal bowl as names were read served as tangible reminders “that death is not the end and that our lament can be transformed into thanksgiving.”

“This evening we experience one of those amazing moments in time and space. God bridges the past and the future into our present,” Conner said, noting the presence of all the saints “cheering us on in our journey of faith.”

Families of those recognized were given similar stones to hold in memoriam prior to Conner’s sermon, which was based on selected verses from John 14 and carried a message of comfort, hope, assurance, grace and a call to live well.

“Hope lets us dream of that future (with Christ) and remember our past, but our challenge is to live in the present,” Conner said. “We are the people others will be remembering some day. …

“God calls us to live so that we will be a people worth remembering,” he continued. “… In this amazing time when past and future touch the present, we need to realize that we will be memories one day. … Whenever we gather in worship or recognize the sacraments of birth and death, we are reminded of God’s hope. It is a hope that we will live as believers, loving one another as Christ loves us.”

In addition to remembering those lost since the 2019 Annual Conference, Conner and Bishop Sandra Steiner Ball reflected on the many losses due to Covid-19.

“We couldn’t gather as we usually would,” Conner said, “ … for funeral services or even for a fellowship meal. We grieve not only in death, but also for what we feel we missed.”

As stones were dropped, participants were asked to reflect silently on those individuals lost to the virus.

“It was a pandemic that took life, but not just life, it took our ways of being able to celebrate the lives of those who died,” Steiner Ball said in a prayer that also reflected on grief in the past year caused by injustice and racism. “It took away our ability to worship and be together with one another in times of grief and change like we usually do, … the grief of not being able to weep with those who weep, face-to-face. … Knit us together in the midst of this grief.”

Follow this link to watch the Service of Memorial and Lament from Friday night at Annual Conference.