Witnessing the Commissioning of Missionaries Makes Connection Real for Members
It’s a new thing, but for many, it’s impossible to imagine it happening any other way.
Historically, new missionaries have been commissioned and sent forth from Global Ministries’ headquarters in New York City. But this year, the 10 new missionaries were commissioned at annual conference sessions, strengthening the partnerships between missionaries, annual conferences and local churches.
It was a change that just made sense to the Rev. Dee Ann Heptas. Though a member of the Kansas East Annual Conference, Heptas was commissioned on June 8 during the West Virginia Annual Conference session, where she currently serves as a Church and Community Worker with the United Methodist Coalfields Ministry.
“I really felt like I was being received into the community of the annual conference,” she said, “and into the community of The United Methodist Church.”
Holding the commissioning service at an annual conference session draws attention to the partnership between the missionary and the annual conference, where the missionary’s faith journey began. That was especially true for new missionary Ellyn Dubberly, who was commissioned June 15 during the North Carolina Annual Conference session.
“It was an extra-special privilege to be commissioned by Bishop Hope Morgan Ward in the North Carolina Conference,” Dubberly said. “She was a part of my first international missions experience when I was in the fourth grade. We traveled to Puerto Rico with a Volunteers in Mission Team from the North Carolina Conference.”
The bishop, who serves the North Carolina Episcopal Area and is president of the Global Ministries board of directors, agrees. “It was a great joy to commission one of our young adults who we have known to be alive to mission even as a child! We were on a work team together when she was in elementary school, joining the youth work team with her mom and dad who were adult leaders.
“This wonderful and sacred moment of commissioning warmed our hearts and inspired us to join her in the mission of taking Jesus Christ to all the world,” she said.
And that’s important, Dubberly said.
“Missionary commissioning at annual conferences helps local churches get a glimpse of how wide our United Methodist connection spans,” she said. “Without this experience, many people in my conference would not know that they now have a Global Ministries missionary serving, on their behalf, in El Salvador.”
Understanding that connection is important, because missionaries not only represent the general church, they represent their annual conferences, said Bishop Hee Soo Jung of the Wisconsin Episcopal Area, who presided at the commissioning of Hyo Won Park on June 8 during the Wisconsin Annual Conference session. Park will serve as a church planter in Russia.
“Global Ministries trains and sends the missionary to the mission site, but the annual conference is an important body in being a partner to the missionary sending,” Bishop Jung said. “[Missionaries] have been nurtured by the conference and they will continue to relate to the conference. The visibility at annual conference helps promote awareness of the mission and future relationships between the local church and the missionary.”
“Our missionary agencies coordinate and collaborate with local partners. Ministry is always done and supported by the local annual conference and the local community. If members witness the event, it really strengthens the relationships and the partnerships,” Bishop Jung said.
Nancy and Clifford “Kip” Robinson, who were commissioned on June 22 during the Virginia Annual Conference, learned almost immediately that for many the connection between missionaries and annual conferences had become real.
“The entire experience for the people in the Virginia Annual Conference and for us was extraordinary,” Kip said. “Virginia has put forth a number of missionaries, but the only thing we ever saw were pictures from a ceremony held in New York. This process made it very, very personal and really demonstrates that this is a connectional church.”
“It brings missionaries alive and really connects people in the conference to the work being done in other places around the world,” said Nancy.
Nancy said that as part of the commissioning service, missionaries were given an anchor cross. During the service, people hear that the cross symbolizes the missionaries’ connection not just with the Virginia Conference and the United Methodist, but that they are anchored in Christ.
“That was really special for others to see the spiritual component [of missionary work],” she said. “People commented that it really brought home how the ministry is rooted in Christ and God’s love.”
Heptas said the commissioning, done as part of a worship service, is a visual reminder of the United Methodist Church’s connectional ministry. “When this is part of your life, you forget people don’t know about missionaries,” she said, saying it’s important for people to understand that every time apportionments are paid, it makes it possible to send missionaries to places in need. “I don’t know if seeing me during a worship service at annual conference helps or not, but I think every time we can do it, it helps put those pieces together.
Dubberly agrees, saying the service closes a gap of understanding and communication between General Boards and local churches. “It is vitally important to encourage personal connections between annual conferences as well as local churches with Global Ministries missionaries. It takes the prayers, gifts, and support of all entities to do God's work around the world.
“It's not the work of the handful that actually get on the plane and go, it takes a team of people staying and going to spread the gospel message of Hope to all people,” she said.