A Message at the Ordination of Haley Blackwell
St. John’s Baptist Church of Charlotte, NC on Sunday, May 7, 2023
by Rev. Dennis W. Foust, PhD, Senior Minister
Haley, this high day in your life is also a high day in our life together as a church. We are ordaining you today because you express gifts of pastoral ministry which we need among us as we participate in God’s mission.
We were tremendously blessed by The Living God when we were guided to cross paths with you last year.
Our search for a person of faithful devotion and relational ministry intersected with your search for a faith community where you could invest your calling to serve young people beyond the university campus.
For a few minutes this morning, I will use the letters of your first name to affirm you and challenge us, as your church.
H.A.L.E.Y., H is for – Humility: Your humility runs very deep. I value your humility. It is a guiding thread in your ministry spirit. Continue to invest time in your daily walk with God, as revealed in Jesus Christ, and your humility will continue to mature.
St. John’s, H is for Help! We did not call Haley here to be a lone ranger. She needs HELP! You proved your commitment to Help last Sunday by surpassing the $25,000 goal at the Youth Mission Auction. You don’t have to be a parent of youth to HELP. Volunteer. Ask Haley how you can assist publicly, provide resources, food, or snacks, or other help. Even in the background, H is for Help!
H.A.L.E.Y., A is for – Attach: Too often, congregational ministers live detached from the people they serve. They only direct events, programs, & activities. Attach your heart to the hearts of these people. We will be enriched as you Attach your life to ours. Our youth and young adults will be different because your Attachment to God attaches to their lives as well.
St. John’s, A is for Acquainted! I challenge you to acquaint yourself with Haley. You will be blessed by her. Her bubbly spirit is honest! She is a joy! I also challenge you to be acquainted with Austin. He is quiet and unassuming – but he is also one of the sweetest humans on planet earth. I also challenge you to get acquainted with our youth and young adults and their families. Our youth and young adults will find their faith shaped in healthier ways through intergenerational relationships.
H.A.L.E.Y., L is for – Love, Laugh & Lead: Everyone who knows you is aware that you love genuinely; your compassion is authentic. And, my friend, your laugh is contagious. Your laugh makes me laugh more fully. And I have already seen your leadership. Although we are a collaborative congregation and serve together as a staff team, we need your leadership. So, lead sister, lead!
St. John’s, L is for Lift in Prayer! As you know, no leader can please all the people all the time.
In fact, you cannot even please yourself all the time. Please place Haley and each member of our church staff on your daily prayer list. Haley will never make a decision, initiate a plan, or introduce an idea that she doesn’t think is good or best for our youth, young adults and their families. When you lift Haley in prayer, you are connecting with God’s power in ways you cannot fully understand.
H.A.L.E.Y., E is for – Educator: There is a huge difference between a teacher who dispenses content and an educator who draws forth development from the learners. We have discussed how faith develops in young people. I look forward to working with you in this area over the next few years. You have already been teaching our youth one of your favorite scriptural visions: “Do justice with God. Love mercy with God. Walk Humbly with God.” You are embodying this vision. Live into your calling to be an educator. God’s Church needs more faith educators! And you are one of good ones!
St. John’s, E is for Encouragers! Haley is like each of you. She has discouraging days. She will carry burdens and secrets with others. She will try to build bridges and guide people to places where they may not want to go. She will see potential and be disappointed when people refuse to allow God’s life to unfold. She will learn of ways she has disappointed someone without meaning to do so. Send her encouraging notes, emails, and texts to buoy her spirit. Vitamin E helps the immune system. Be the Vitamin E group for Haley to protect her immune system from disappointment and discouragement.
H.A.L.E.Y., Y is for – Yourself: Your uncle and cousin are good guideposts for you. They are God’s gifts to you. You have also learned from professors and alongside other ministers who have modeled healthy ministry for you. However, they are NOT you. Like Jesus calling Mary by name near the empty tomb, God has called you by name. And when your name is called, God needs you to be YOURSELF in fulfilling the ministry God has assigned to you. Like Mary, you will sometimes be misunderstood. Sometimes people will not listen to you. But be yourself. God has called you by name.
St. John’s, Y is for Yoked! Jesus used the yoke to describe his relationship with his followers. A yoke enables multiple beings to walk in step with one another. St. John’s, we are yoked with Christ. We are also yoked with one another in our commitments to follow God in The Way of Jesus. We are united by our discipleship to walk in the same direction making disciples and building a better world with God. This includes our relationship with Haley and our ministries to youth, young adults, and their families. Let us invest in these ministries fully because we are yoked with Christ and one another!
Now, just in case there is anyone here today who questions why we ordain women in the life and ministry of St. John’s, there is a clear answer. We ordain women because we baptize girls!
When Frederick Buechner was a young man, he informed a wealthy New York socialite that he had been called to become a minister. The wealthy New Yorker bristled and asked Buechner, “Is this your own idea or have you been poorly advised?” Haley, there may be days along your journey when you feel as if you have been poorly advised. On those days, I pray God will remind you of this day. We have been watching you and experiencing your ministry.
YOU WERE NOT POORLY ADVISED! YOU ARE CALLED TO BE A MINISTER OF GOD’S GOSPEL IN THE LOCAL CHURCH! We have gathered to proclaim it so! Amen!