By Jessica Connor
FLORENCE — With a call to rejoice, rejoice, even when you are racked with a sadness of heart that seems unbearable, the Rev. Lillian Washington delivered a memorial service June 11 for those of us left behind.
Lifting up the names of 34 active and retired pastors, spouses and surviving spouses, Washington drew from Philippians 1:12-21 in her message, A Celebration of Life.
Have you ever been to an airport and watched people say goodbye? she asked the crowd, noting each one does it differently “ some quickly, unable to stand long, drawn-out farewells; some clinging to each other until the very last moment. I always thought it was easier for the person leaving on the plane. They re going on to a great adventure, an exciting adventure, while the ones left behind return to an empty home.
Like travelers, the 34 departed souls have now begun an exciting adventure, Washington said “ gone to a beautiful word as yet unknown to us.
Yet for those left behind, the survivors, hearts are often heavy with grief and loneliness for the one they lost. While our faith teaches we shall meet and know our loved ones in the hereafter, sometimes it is difficult to do as Paul instructs the Philippians “ rejoice in the lord always “ when your heart is breaking.
Always? Washington asked. Paul, do you mean that?
Many times, we feel we can rejoice in the Lord when things are going well, when we re not too busy, when we re healthy, when our finances are in order “ but rejoice always?
But Washington reminded the crowd that Paul was no stranger to suffering. At the time he wrote this letter, he was enduring an imprisonment that lasted two years. Even through hardship, Paul urges people to rejoice, remembering Christ s sacrifice for us all, and the great prize ahead of us in the Kingdom of God.
Death is not the end of all things; It is the door that leads from this world into a world more vast and beautiful, Washington preached. We look forward to the future with our Christian assurance of eternal life on the other side of death.
In his opening at the memorial service, Bishop Jonathan Holston urged those gathered to rejoice even as we mourn, and to fully experience our loss as a part of life.
Help us not to hurry as we walk with grief; it does not help the journey, Holston prayed. Grant that we may walk slowly, pausing often. Let us not be disturbed by memories that come unbidden, but let Christ speak our unspoken words. In grief may we be gentle with one another and recognize your presence among us.
He closed the service reminding all gathered to hold tight to their memories and keep their faces turned toward God.
Each day a piece of them goes with us, Holston said.
Those souls celebrated at the memorial service passed on since the last Annual Conference. Active ministers who died: Jerry Mitchell James. Retired ministers who died are D. Anita Bozardt, James Monroe Bradley Jr., James Wakefield Jim Covington, Iverson Graham Jr., James Arthur Graham Sr., Charles Ariel Graves, William Thomas Holroyd, Edward Lawrence Mainous, Edward Crosland McLeod, Thomas Leonard McMinn Jr., George Clay Owens, Charles Gate Pfeiffer, Thomas Glenn Rogers, Mary Alice Eskew Rowell, Robert Bradford Way, George Wightman Whitaker Jr. and Lewe Scott Woodham.
Spouses who died are Margaret Ann Williams Dudley, Mildred Ammons Fields, Betty Ellen Hucks Harris, Cynthia Yvonne Reynolds and Betty Roper Strother.
Surviving spouses who died are Bliss Janette Stanton Amspacher, Clara Bright Cole, Thelma Lloyd DuBois, Gwen Sanders Gosnell, Carol McDaniel Hipp, Susan Lallage Blanton Jones, Alma Combs Shepherd, Lillie Mae Shumpert, Mary Ellen McKee Turner and Dorothy Eileen Zoller.
A former member of the conference, the Rev. Alonzo Clark Jenkins, also died since the last annual conference.