God is the potter who continually molds us to reflect his grace, love, and hope, Bishop Laurie Haller told those gathered for Sunday's Ordering of Ministry service.
And it is in being His creation that we can find purpose and the beauty of our individual “Gloria.”
The Iowa Annual Conference ordained five elders at the 2018 Annual Conference Session, also commissioning six for the work of an elder, and recognizing six others as Course of Study graduates.
See more images from the Ordering of Ministry Service | Watch the "What does Ordination Mean to You" video? | Watch the full service here | Watch Bishop Laurie Haller's sermon | Bishop Michael Burk's Ecumenical Greeting
Bishop Michael Burk of the Southeastern Iowa Synod Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) offered the Ecumenical Greeting for the service.
Bishop Burk said it was increasingly clear to him that whether among Methodists, the ELCA or other faith traditions, we have a common goal, and it is to let the world know about Jesus.
God’s grace is sufficient the bishop said, and it is by that grace that “we are one in this together.”
“Your Gloria Lives in You”
Bishop Laurie employed the image of God as the potter throughout her sermon for the Ordering of Ministry Service, with an actual potter on the dais throwing a pot as she spoke.
The potter, Brooke Jetmunde of Ankeny and Polk City UMC, says she finds the most success when she lets the clay guide her, explained the bishop. Jetmunde had fallen in love with taking an ordinary lump of clay and shaping it into something beautiful, she said and has created lots of pottery over the years, often pieces that are functional.
Bishop Laurie said that Jetmunde’s favorite method is the RAKU fire process, and an ancient form of firing creating almost metallic looking decorative pieces.
“There is perhaps no greater metaphor for the Christian life than God the potter, working and reworking the clay of each one of our lives, continually molding us into people who reflect God’s love, grace, and hope,” the bishop said.
She cited Isaiah 64 in saying, “Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter.”
Bishop Laurie then examined the numerous basic steps in making pottery, including preparing the clay by pressing it and squeezing it to eliminate air bubbles, and the actual shaping of the clay, which is then decorated in one of a number of ways. The clay is then fired at high temperatures in a kiln more than once, along with being washed to remove the dust and the clay decorated via glazing.
It was with this image of God as the potter to the world, that led to the bishop posing three questions to the ordinands and others present.
First, she asked, "Whom are you going to allow to mold you?"
A potter must first center the clay on the wheel, she said, and likewise, we are whole and healthy when we are centered in Christ.
"How are you going to stay centered in Christ as elders in The United Methodist Church?" Bishop Laurie queried the ordinands.
She spoke of being fascinated with how a potter shapes the sides of a pot into the desired form by pressing one hand on the inside and the other hand on theoutside of the spinning pot, carefully avoiding making the sides too thick or thin lest the piece collapse.
“In the same way,” said Bishop Laurie, “if you and I spread ourselves too thin in our lives, if we try to do too much, we’ll burn out.”
The world is trying to shape us and squeeze us into its mold, she said, while on the other side, God’s hand yearns to do the same.
She quoted Romans 12:2 where the apostle Paul says, “Do not let the world around you squeeze you into its mold.”
Bishop Laurie then charged those present in each of their varying stages of life to not be sucked into the mold of the world.
Arriving back at those recognized, commissioned, or ordained that morning, she said, “Don’t get sucked into the mold of thinking that you aren’t successful unless you are serving the largest churches in the conference.”
“We are all lumps of clay my friends,” stated Bishop Laurie, “every last one of us, waiting to be continually molded.”
“Who is your potter?” she then asked. “Whom will you allow to mold you? Who or what is shaping your life at this very minute, on June 10, 2018?”
Her second question for the ordinands was, “Are you willing to be as patient as the Potter?”
Molding and shaping the clay of our lives doesn’t happen immediately but involves quiet persistence on both God’s part and our part, the bishop explained.
"You see, God doesn't make cookie-cutter pots. God isn't like a factory, mass producing perfect pots using the latest technology," said Bishop Laurie. "No, God is like Brooke, patiently sitting at the potter's wheel, turning out one pot at a time, each one unique, each one a thing of beauty, but always slightly flawed and sometimes even cracked."
“The truth is that God is never done with us,” she continued. “But that’s okay, for God is not in a hurry.”
“Don’t yearn for the time when you will graduate from the potter’s wheel,” she counseled. “Don’t long for the day when the clay of your life will be perfectly formed. Don’t complain about the continual reshaping, for the shaping is your life.”
“The wheel is your life,” she told the ordinands. “Are you willing to be as patient as the Potter?”
Bishop Laurie’s final question was, “Will you allow God to shape you into an instrument of grace, hope, and shalom?”
She reminded them thatGod sent His own son Jesus into the world to do hands-on molding.
“All of this molding has a purpose,” the bishop said. “God wants to form us into something useful.God shapes us so that we can reshape our world.”
She then touched on the question of whether pottery is simply something beautiful versus also being functional.
“When we refer to God as a potter, we’re saying that God doesn’t just want us to look pretty,” said Bishop Laurie. “God doesn’t care if we are perfectly shaped. God simply wants us to be useful. That’s how we become a thing of beauty.”
“The clay that is our lives is ultimately God’s instrument,” she said. “Either we allow God to mold us or we don’t. And if we do allow God to shape us, God is going to use us to change the world.”
Bishop Laurie shared a story in the Abraham Verghese book Cutting for Stone,
about orphaned twin boys who come of age in Ethiopia.
The boys were raised in their early years by Matron, the director of Missing Mission Hospital in Addis Ababa, and it was she who molded and shaped their character.
One of the boys, Marion, who became a surgeon, said he chose the specialty of surgery because of Matron, and her steady presence during his childhood.
When Marion sought Matron’s advice at one point, Matron had told him he must do the hardest thing he could possibly do.
When he asked why, she’d told him, “‘Because, Marion, you are an instrument of God. Don’t leave the instrument sitting in its case, my son. Play! Leave no part of your instrument unexplored. Why settle for ‘Three Blind Mice’ when you can play the “Gloria”?’
Marion said he found it unfair for her to evoke “that soaring chorale” which always made him feel that he “stood with every mortal creature looking up to the heavens in dumb wonder.”
“‘But, Matron, I can’t dream of playing Bach, the “Gloria”…,’ he had replied under his breath, as he’d never played and wind instrument and couldn’t read music.
Marion related Matron’s response to him:
“‘No, Marion,’ she said, her gaze soft, reaching for me, her gnarled hands rough on my cheeks. ‘No, not Bach’s “Gloria.” Yours! Your “Gloria” lives within you. The greatest sin is not finding it, ignoring what God made possible in you.’”
Bishop Laurie then picked up a lump of clay she’d displayed earlier, telling the ordinands “This is your Gloria.”
“And this is the Gloria of every one of you who is here today,” she added. “This is your instrument. It’s a thing of beauty. The sin is not allowing God to use the instrument that is you and that God created and shaped lovingly.”
The bishop said she recalls each day how the Iowa Annual Conference is a thing of beauty.
“What we are witnessing here this morning is a piece of pottery, a collective instrument that is the reign of God, unfolding before our very eyes in this conference,” she said. “But the Gloria is found not so much in our buildings, programs, and activities. The Gloria is in you.”
“It’s in the body of Christ that is 150,000 difference makers called United Methodists in the state of Iowa,” continued Bishop Laurie. “And the glory is in the millions of people around the world whose lives have been transformed because of your faith, your outreach, and your mission.”
The bishop told those present that she saw glory in each one of them as they allow God to continually mold, shape, and remake their lives into something new.
She sees it as well in Conference members’ spiritual growth when a baby is baptized, a youth is called to ministry, an adult confesses his or her faith for the first time, and when a stranger is welcomed with open arms.
She said she sees see glory as well when a child is cured of malaria because of Conference members’ generosity, a homeless person has a warm bed in which to sleep, and in United Methodist churches in Nigeria and other places supported by the Conference that are transforming lives.
Bishop Laurie said she sees glory in the willingness to create, risk, change, struggle, and act boldly.
“I see glory when the Holy Spirit prompts you to do something you never thought possible,” she said. “I see glory when you realize that you are more than you were, and you are becoming more than you are.”
“Will you yield yourself completely to the Potter?” the bishop asked. “What is the next step God is calling you to take in reshaping your world? How does God want to use the instrument that is you, for your Gloria lives within you?”
“You are not just a lump of clay,” Bishop Laurie stated in conclusion. “You are a thing of beauty, lovingly and creatively shaped by God, the Potter.”
Mental Health Task Force
An offering was taken at the ordination service to benefit mental health reform. Rev. Len Eberhart spoke about Grinnell UMC Lay Leader Monique Shore having partnered with Grinnell’s Presbyterian church to offer mental health first aid training
for the first time last September, and how this was instrumental in spearheading the still Conference's still developing Mental Health Task Force.
“Never underestimate the power of a single individual to make a difference, Eberhart told the Conference.
It was clear from the beginning that there was a huge need in raising awareness and assist churches in responding to the mental health crisis in Iowa, he said, remarking as well that both mental health workshops at the Annual Conference Session were full, turning some away. A definitive plan is still in the works, he said, but the need is present and critical.
2018 course of study graduates:
Those commissioned for the work of an elder:
Those ordained as elders:
Hugo Alejandro Alfaro-Santiz
Humberto Gonzalez Santana