This year's annual conference of the Desert Southwest Conference, United Methodist Church, was held at the Renaissance Glendale Hotel & Spa, a luxury hotel that is a popular venue for weddings and conventions. Like most buildings nowadays, it appeared to comply fully with the Americans with Disabilities Act (42 U.S.C. § 12101). The ordination service took place in the hotel's media center, a very large multi-purpose room. A number of round tables had been set up with ten chairs each. Additional chairs reserved for clergy were arranged in rows in front of a stage on which there was a table set with loaves of bread, several chalices, and stoles. Musical instruments were off to the left.
The Desert Southwest Conference of the United Methodist Church is comprised of congregations in Arizona and southern Nevada. The annual conference is a five-day affair that includes discussion groups, educational seminars, church business and worship services. The ordination service took place on Saturday, the penultimate day of the conference.
Glendale is one of the western suburbs of Phoenix. The hotel is located in the Westgate Center, a large complex featuring shops, restaurants, a multiplex movie house, two hotels, and two upscale apartment communities. Nearby is the University of Phoenix Stadium, known to locals as the Mother Ship due to its flying saucer-like appearance. The Westgate Center is south of Glendale Avenue between 93rd and 95th Avenues, near the westernmost leg of the ring road known as the Loop 101 (actually three-quarters of a loop; construction is underway on the final segment despite fierce opposition from residents of the area through which it will pass).
The Revd Bishop Robert Hoshibata, Bishop of the Desert Southwest Conference, officiated. The Revd Brian Kemp-Schlemmer, pastor of City Square Church, Phoenix, preached. The names of others taking part in the service were displayed on screen as they performed their roles, but they are too numerous to mention.
What was the name of the service?Service of Commissioning and Ordination
How full was the building?
It is a very large room and looked completely full. Perhaps some of the tables at the far corners had some unoccupied chairs.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
No. No one was stationed at the doors.
Was your pew comfortable?
I sat on one of several chairs that were positioned against the back wall; it was comfortable enough.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
People found seats with friends at various tables. There was quite a bit of visiting going on. The procession of clergy entered, led by a crucifer. Most clergy wore either albs or white or black Geneva gowns with red or white stoles; some of the deacons wore paisley stoles. The bishop carried a crosier.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
By the bishop: "My sisters and brothers in Christ, my colleagues in ministry: the grace of Jesus Christ be with you all."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Nothing at all. Congregational prayers and words to the songs were projected.
What musical instruments were played?
Grand piano, digital piano, acoustic guitar, drums. There was a single female soloist, and the pianist also sang. Alas, the days of convention halls boasting fine old theater organs are long gone.
Did anything distract you?
I spotted the pastor of a church I had previously Mystery Worshipped. I was hoping she wouldn't spot me (I don't think she did), as one of her parishioners had written a rather nasty letter about the presence of a Mystery Worshipper at the service.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
I was impressed by the dignity and solemnity of it all. The music was a mixture of traditional hymns, lite contemporary songs, and religious folk songs. The musicians primarily carried the show, though very few of the congregation joined in (or perhaps it seemed that way due to the bad acoustics of the room). There were prayers and readings from scripture, both in English and in Spanish. The gospel was read in parts by three lectors. The ordination ceremony itself consisted of two parts. First, the candidates were presented en masse and examined by the bishop. The congregation were asked if they accepted them. Then, each class of candidates was ordained separately: those to be commissioned, who in other traditions would be called seminarians; then deacons; next elders; and finally clergy from other denominations whose orders were being recognized (i.e., they were being received into the Methodist Church). In each case, the candidates knelt before the bishop, who laid hands on them and presented them with symbols of office: a cross for the commissioned, a deacon's stole for the deacons, and a chalice and stole for the elders. There was quite a bit of applause, not only for the candidates but also for some of the music and (surprisingly) even for the sermon!
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – The Revd Brian Kemp-Schlemmer had a very animated preaching style - varying the volume and tone of his voice, indulging in hand gestures, moving about, etc. I didn't always follow his train of thought, however.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
His text was the gospel reading for the day: John 5:2-13 (Jesus heals the invalid at the Pool of Bethesda). The events described took place on just an ordinary day, but imagine the surprise of those who entered the pool and emerged healed. Imagine also the surprise of the man whom Jesus instructed to take up his bed and walk. In those days the Jews did not associate with certain classes of outcasts: the lame, blind, deaf and dumb would be welcome at the pool, but certainly not lepers, Samaritans, etc. But Jesus shared his power with all. He knew what injustice was because he knew what was going to happen to him. What does injustice mean to those of us who have never known it - who live in comfortable homes, have plenty to eat, are not wanting for money? It's easy for us to say, "There are haves and have-nots; that's just the way it is." But that's not just the way it is. We must convince ourselves of that. When God calls, you can't hang up!
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The ordination ceremony was quite beautiful and inspiring. The words of ordination were different for each class of ordinands. Most impressive, I thought, were the words the bishop spoke over the elders: "Receive the right to preach the Word of God, to administer the holy sacraments, and to order the Church". And at the reception of clergy from other denominations: "We recognize you as ministers in the United Methodist Church."
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The room was very dead acoustically, and the sound system, while loud enough, wasnt always clear. I wouldn't have recognized the words to the songs at all if they hadn't been projected. There were parts of the prayers and sermon that I couldn't make out. And I'm not sure why they thought table seating would be preferable to seating all in rows. Its a pity they couldn't rent the hotel's large and fine auditorium for this event.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The service ended with an altar call of sorts. The bishop invited clergy and others to come forward to renew their call to ministry or to reaffirm the presence of God in their lives. Some did, but many in the congregation started to leave at that point, although the final benediction had not yet been given. I decided to beat the rush for the doors and leave too.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was none.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
N/A – This was not a regular occasion. I don't think your average Methodist congregation would go for this amount of pomp and ceremony - procession behind the cross, kneeling before the bishop, etc. But Methodists are known for their outstanding preaching and fine musical tradition, so perhaps they are worth a closer look.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
Spotting the pastor of a church I had previously Mystery Worshipped.