By Rev. Lori Ethridge
Minister to Senior Adults
Last Sunday, I was most privileged to attend the worship service for the installation of the new Bishop of the North Georgia Conference, Sue Haupert-Johnson. The glorious service, full of regal, liturgically-rich elements, was held at Peachtree Road United Methodist Church and featured four choirs, a brass ensemble, cantors, bell ringers, banner bearers, and shiny streamers of ribbon suspended from arching poles (symbolic of the fire and wind of Holy Spirit) held aloft, swirling in the vaulted nave high above our heads. Both clergy and laity alike were involved in speaking prayers, singing hymns, and making covenants. Bishop Sue, as she prefers to be called, read the scriptures from Luke 15, and began to preach. Suddenly sirens started to bellow and emergency lights flashed with alarm.
My first thought was that this was a weather-related issue, since we had just experienced a significant downpour. To say that the emergency signals were an intrusion into the sacred space is the epitome of an understatement. The momentum of the entire service had built to the point of hearing our new bishop proclaim the Gospel, yet this major interruption vied for our immediate attention. I wondered, “Should we stay or should we go?” Bishop Sue looked to her colleagues on the platform for direction, and those in the congregation waited for instructions. The evacuation commenced promptly, but within minutes Dr. Bill Britt, Senior Minister of Peachtree Road UMC, announced from the pulpit that there had been a medical emergency in another area of the campus, and that we could safely return to our places in the pews. There is no doubt in my mind that Bishop Sue will ever forget that monumental occasion, for many reasons! She handled herself gracefully and diplomatically as she prayed for the individual in medical crisis before resuming her sermon.
How do we respond when an alarming moment occurs that later proves inconsequential, at least to us personally? Someone in the building was in distress, but everyone was unnecessarily alarmed. Bishop Sue modeled an appropriate response, I think. We paused to pray for the
specific need and then we continued worshipping God. Sometimes in life we are distracted by matters immediately at hand. It is wise to pray over the issue, and then return our focus on God, the author and finisher of our faith.