By Ken Rosenauer
The bell tolled 36 times. The first 18 were for Missouri United Methodist clergy who died in the past year. The next 13 were for clergy spouses. Then, four for clergy and one for a spouse from Mozambique who died.
The bell punctuated each of the names read by Tom Ventura and Rev. Yvi Martin.
These were the powerful, albeit somber, moments of the traditional Memorial Service at Annual Conference.
Rev. Jim Bryan opened the Saturday morning service, inviting all to “remember the people and communities whose lives sang with love as they answered the call to follow Jesus.”
A portion of the scripture from Hebrews offered at the service reads, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.
In his reflection, Bishop Bob Farr alluded to that great cloud of witnesses, explaining that he has sensed it during memorial services at every annual conference he has attended.
He said that God loves us and told the gathered families of those being remembered that God loved each of their loved ones even before they were born.
“God holds us in his hands forever,” he said.
Even though the Bible tells us that nothing will ever separate us from the love of God, the Bishop noted, death makes us humble and tests our faith.
Yet, he said, “we are blessed by these people who have gone before us,” asserting that we can never know exactly how much their lives impacted those around them.
In a reference to Friday’s opening worship led by the Rev. Dr. Antonio Sessions, he said that we cannot walk in someone else’s clothes. Each person must wear his or her own, and that is certainly true of each of those being remembered at this service.
“Jesus went to prepare a special room for Methodist pastors,” he suggested. “It will have forms for them to fill out, of course, and it will have a potluck meal with “‘the best chocolate pie ever.’”
He told the families, “You loved your loved ones,” and “you are loved by this big group here.”
“We’re stopping here, and we need to stop, to honor those who have passed and to pay homage to them,” he concluded.
During the reading of names and tolling of the bell, all who were touched by these people stood for a moment in silent witness to their ministry.
Then, a candle was lit for each of the 16 United Methodist Churches that closed in the past year. Each candle will be given to the district as “remembrance that the light reflected in those communities continues to shine forth.”
The Immanuel United Methodist Church Choral Ensemble provided special music for the service, with “The Potter’s Hand” as a prelude, “Make My Life a Blessing” as a gift of music and a trombone quartet playing closing music.