United Methodists Celebrate and Commission 40 New Deaconesses, Home Missioners and Missionaries
A firefighter, a nursing supervisor, a counselor for ex-prisoners, an advocate for Haitian artists, an afterschool chess teacher, and a coordinator of relief volunteers – these were among the 17 new deaconesses and home missioners commissioned on Sunday, April 29 alongside 23 new missionaries of The United Methodist Church.
The solemn and joyous service took place at Palma Ceia United Methodist Church in Tampa with more than 500 in attendance during the 2012 meeting of the ten-day General Conference. Palma Ceia is a 66 year-old, 1,500-member church with a strong mission outreach.
The commissioning in the sanctuary overflowed into a fellowship hall wherein a video of the service was streamed locally and globally. The Rev. Dr. Kevin M. James, Sr., the church’s pastor and host, said it was “wonderful to have the global church at Palma Ceia.”
The new mission personnel confirmed a call to a lifetime of mission, “led by the Spirit of God to engage in this work.” They promised to pray, read the Bible, increase their skills, and do their work “in sincerity and love,” witnessing to the grace of God in Jesus Christ.
Bishop Bruce R. Ough of West Ohio, president of the global ministries’ agency, presided at the service of commissioning. At the start of the service, Thomas Kemper, head of the mission agency, and Harriett Jane Olson, head of the Women’s Division, led a litany on the importance of missionaries and deaconesses in Scripture and the Methodist tradition, expressing trust “that these mission servants, being sent forth in the power of the Holy Spirit and the accompanying grace of God, will fulfill the sacred tasks entrusted to them.”
A prayer by Home Missioner Haniel Garibay of the Virginia Annual Conference summarized many of the situations in which those commissioned will serve, including affliction by hunger, natural disaster, war, injustices, pollution, neglect, and, those who hunger “for the spiritual food of God’s Word and love.”
Deaconesses, who are women, and home missioners, who are men, are laypeople who serve ministries of justice and mercy in the United States. They have pursued theological studies and commit to the community.
“Sometimes it’s fighting for justice, and other times it’s helping to meet someone’s basic needs for food, shelter or comfort. It varies with the hour and the day… (We are) involved with our hearts, minds and hands all at the same time. We study scripture… then are given many opportunities to go out and live it. It’s empowering for me to be in The United Methodist Church,” said Ms. Amanda Caruso, a deaconess working for the Habitat for Humanity Kansas City ReStore in South Kansas City, Mo, making the way for low-income families to build or renovate homes.
On April 29 in the evening at the Tampa Convention Center, the new missionaries, deaconesses and home missioners were introduced to applause and a standing ovation after a very long day.
On Twitter, a social media site, fellow deaconess Carol Gullatt from Huntsville, Alabama, tweeted: “Yay! We celebrate you!” Harriett Jane Olson, chief executive of the Women’s Division, tweeted a photo of the new mission personnel standing in the light.
“[I am] joyful to be embraced into the community of deaconesses and home missioners and for the celebration of friends and family in affirming this call to love justice and service,” said newly commissioned deaconess Valerie Mossman-Celestin from West Michigan who serves as the US director of HAPI, Haitian Artisans for Peace International, a collective that promotes women artisans of Haiti. “[I am] reflective on and grateful for all the ‘saints’ who have guided my spiritual journey.”
The diverse class of new missionaries will serve globally through the General Board of Global Ministries, while the deaconesses and home missioners serve in the US through the Women’s Division.
A full list of those commissioned, their home annual conferences, and their assignments is available.