On the 19th of October I was privileged to be part of a Service of Recognition for Local Preachers coming onto Full Plan.
To those not familiar with the Methodist procedures, a Local Preacher's journey starts (of course) with an expression of a "call to preach", followed by the granting by the Circuit Superintendent of a "Note to Preach", which is valid for a quarter. During this time, the candidate takes part in one or more services together with a minister or experienced Local Preacher, who will report on the candidate and recommend whether they should proceed to the next stage, which is "On Trial". The "On Trial" phase lasts for a minimum of two years, during which time a number of trial services are to be conducted. At the same time, the candidate must comply with the Church's academic requirements.
In my particular case I took a bit of a "short-cut" route in that my call to full-time ministry came (in a sense) before any awareness on my part of any call to preach. However, the route for potential ministry candidates is via the Local Preacher route, except that once the candidate has completed one year "On Trial", complied with the academic requirements for candidature as a minister, and is recommended as a candidate minister by the District Synod, remission from the second year "On Trial" may be granted at the discretion of the Circuit Local Preacher's Quarterly Meeting.
So this is how I have come to being received "on Full Plan" (i.e. as a fully-accredited Local Preacher), despite having already received the EMMU letter accepting me as a Phase One probationer.
The service itself was a marathon affair, lasting just on four hours. Us whiteys still need to develop the stamina for such services! (Our style is more like: in - hymn sandwich with prayers and the "other bits" - sermon - closing hymn - out. 50 minutes, done!) That's not to say that the service was not a moving experience - on the contrary, it was extremely moving, with much singing and praising (in true African style), prayer, and various addresses.
When it came to the commissioning itself, it was quite incredible.
Those with long memories (or the patience to trawl back through the archives of this blog) will recall that during my trial service at Zola, I was asked what my status as a Local Preacher was. Since I was still on trial, I was asked to use the lectern, as it is the custom only for Local Preachers on full plan and ministers to preach from the pulpit. If you are a non-traditionalist, then pulpit, lectern, microphone stand, no mike at all - makes no difference at the end of the day, but hey, when in rome, do as the Romans do. But on the day of the commissioning service, each preacher is led by the hand into the pulpit, prayed for - and then asked to give a brief address to the congregation.
Now talk about the need to be ready "in season and out", for I had absolutely no idea that I would be asked to do this! Thankfully I was the last of the preachers to be led up, so I had time to ask God to give me the appropriate words for the occasion. The last thing that I wanted was to sound like I was giving an Oscar acceptance speech!
But all I could think about was the time I was about to leave primary school to go up to high school. Forest High in the south of Johannesburg does not have the best of reputations of late, particularly since that tragic stabbing a while back, but even back in 1981 it was a rough place. And since that's where I was going, my primary school principal felt there was no future for me, and told me so in no uncertain terms: "Jones - I don't expect you to amount to much!"
Lord! What relevance does THAT have to addressing a congregation at a Local Preachers' Commissioning service? As these thoughts were tumbling through my head, I was nervously flipping through my Xhosa hymnbook - and then it hit me right between the eyes: Indumiso C - Psalm 100. For it was the same primary school principal who asked me to stand up in fromt of the whole school assembly, at the tender age of 9, and read out Psalm 100. It was the first time I had ever read Scripture aloud in public.
When Rev Kgomotso Mtimkulu, our Circuit Local Preachers Association President, led me into the pulpit, I felt a shaft of light bore straight through my soul. I related how my primary school principal told me how I would amount to nothing, and he was right. For without Jesus in my life, I AM nothing. But that reading of Psalm 100 sowed a seed into my heart: "Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands. Serve the Lord with gladness. Come before His presence with singing. Know ye that the Lord is God. It is He that hast made us, not we ourselves. We are His people and the sheep of His pasture. Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise. Be thankful unto Him, and bless His Name, for the Lord is good!" (I've probably left out some verses and jumbled others, but I've deliberately written it down as I remembered it from 30 years ago, rather than to copy it from one of my Bibles.)
Once I had shared this story, I asked the congregation to indulge me while I read the Psalm to them. But this time, it was not Psalm 100, but Indumiso C, to honour the predominantly Xhosa-speaking congregation that had come to support us new Local Preachers.
Here are a few pics from this truly amazing and moving service...
Local Preachers from all around the South Rand Circuit. This is not a fist fight about to break out, but rather the preamble to a "group hug" of note!
Freedom Park congregants enters the sanctuary. Freedom Park is a preaching place in an informal settlement next to Eldorado Park, and falls under the pastoral oversight of St Andrews. I've conducted a number of services there, and have become very fond of these dear souls.
The "line-up". (Does my head REALLY shine THAT much?)
Three of the "Freedom Park 5" in action. The way they put everything into their worship is truly inspiring. (As an aside, can you imagine inviting a group of whiteys to a service: "We're going to worship God today. Bring towels." Erm...)
Me in the pulpit, reading "Indumiso C". I have absolutely no idea what was going through Pumla's mind (back, in white), but Cloupas (right) seemed to be impressed with my Xhosa...
Mercy of God - In this season of Advent let us not forget that it was the 'tender mercy of God' that orchestrated the birth of Jesus. Zechariah composes a wonderful song...
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