In late January of 1979 it became official. In the summer of 1972 was when I thought it might be. In the early 1960’s there was a definite foreshadowing that it could be in my future. And all these years later, I wonder if it may have been otherwise (or at least, what would have been if it had been otherwise). I also wonder if, in my lifetime, I will see it happen to someone I have pastored.
It was a rainy, cold Sunday night in Athens, Georgia when the congregation of the First Baptist Church in Athens gathered for something that as far as I know has only happened twice in that church’s long history. A twenty three year old member of that congregation was being ordained into the Ministry of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
I hadn’t planned to be ordained until I finished Seminary which I would begin in the fall of ‘79. But the Steven’s Grove Baptist Church wanted me to serve as their Pastor until I left for Seminary, so an Ordaining Council had been called and just a week before I had been “examined” by a council of ministers and lay persons. It was overseen by the Serepta Baptist Association’s Director of Missions, The late Reverend Crossly.
On my Ordaining Council were not only Rev. Crossly, but the Reverends Dr. Jon Appleton and Dr. Scott Walker. Among the lay persons were George Smith and his father, George Smith. Dr. William Hale and Mr. Floyd Silvey. I particularly remember Mr. Silvey. At Steven’s Grove Church every member of that church had the last name “Smith” – except for Mr. Silvey and his wife. Of course, before he married her she was named “Smith.” Mr. Silvey also gave me some sage advice on the Sunday afternoon of my Ordaining Council. He pulled me aside and said, “Brother Burrell” (Baptists often call their ministers “Brother,” unless it is at a Deacon’s meeting when they are going to fire you), there are two things a Preacher ought not ever handle. The first one is money and the second one is a deacon’s wife!“
That is just about the only thing I remember from that Council meeting as I was running a fever of about 104 degrees and could barely hold my head up. I guess they figured I was on fire for the Lord or something, because I was approved.
The service at which I was ordained was a powerful experience in my life. I was no longer sick by then, and I do remember it well. Members of my home congregation came forward to lay hands on my head, each person having the opportunity to say something to me. That night, they prayed for me and charged me to go out and preach the Gospel. Some twenty years later, Bishop Lindsey Davis, presiding Bishop of the North Georgia Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church welcomed me as an Elder in Full Connection in this Annual Conference by officially recognizing my Ordination. That hot June evening (again in Athens, Georgia) he laid his hands on my head and also charged me to go and serve as an appointed clergy churches of the N. GA Conference.
My point is that I am your Minister Today not only because a Bishop appointed me. I am also here because another congregation, some thirty six years ago sent me. And I have been wondering lately, “Who are we sending?”