Four Celebrations In Three Days
Very Rev. Dr. Casely B. Essamuah
With hearts filled with gratitude to God, Ghanaian Methodist leaders in the USA and Canada (of the North America Mission Diocese – NAMD) devoted three days to celebrating four different history-making milestones in Atlanta, GA. A special delegation from Ghana, comprising the Presiding Bishop of the Methodist Church, Ghana, the Most Rev. Dr. Paul Kwabena Boafo; the Administrative Bishop, the Rt Rev. Michael A. Bossman (and their spouses, Helena and Elizabeth respectively) attended and presided over the celebrations along with the Very Rev. Professor Kwabena Asamoah-Gyadu, President, Trinity Theological Seminary, Legon, Ghana who also played a key role in each service.
The first of the celebrations, which took place in the evening of Friday July 16, 2021, was the induction of the Bishop’s Deputy of the NAMD in the person of the Very Rev. Professor Emmanuel Y. Lartey, who is the Candler Professor of Pastoral Theology and Spiritual Care at the Candler School of Theology, Emory University, Atlanta.
While every leadership transition is historic in its own right, Prof. Lartey’s appointment marked the first time in the history of NAMD that the Ghana Conference had appointed a North America-based minister to be the Presiding Bishop’s Deputy to shepherd the affairs of NAMD. Previously, the Mission selected its own leaders and the following have served in the office of Chairman, the Very Rev. Kofi Bart Martin, and the Very Rev. Dr. J.A.K Bonful. When the NAMD became a Mission diocese, Bishop Benjamin K. Asare was appointed from Ghana to the role of Supervising Missions Coordinators (SMC). The Very Rev. Dr. William Mpere-Gyekye was appointed from Ghana as the first Bishop’s Deputy. Unfortunately, due to immigration challenges, he was unable to be physically present in the USA during the period of his tenure. In the interim between the departure of Bishop Asare and the appointment of Dr. Mpere-Gyekye, the Very Rev. Professor Joseph Osei, based here in the USA, served as Acting Supervising Missions Coordinator.
Professor Lartey comes to the office with a stellar track record comprising a combination of ministry experience including pastoring, teaching/research and service to the larger community, all under what he considers “phenomenal grace.” He has taught at universities and seminaries on three different continents and served in Associations of Pastoral Care professionals at the highest levels. Having passed the MCG lay preachers’ examinations at the tender age of 14, he was the founding leader of Ghana’s premier music and evangelism group, Joyful Way Inc. Beyond all this and even more significantly, the three ministers from Ghana, and this author were all his grateful former students at Trinity Theological Seminary, Legon, Ghana.
After conveying greetings from MCG, the Presiding Bishop in his sermon acknowledged the debt that his generation owed to the teaching ministry of Prof Lartey. Personally, he also thanked Prof Lartey for his assistance during his dissertation research. Gratitude was also expressed to Mrs. Griselda Lartey for her hospitality whenever they visited. He then thanked Prof Lartey for accepting to serve as Bishop’s deputy at this time in the history of NAMD.
The gospel reading, John 21:15-17 formed the text of his sermon – Feed my lambs, as Jesus said. He reminded the new bishop that his role is to feed, take care of, guide and protect the flock of God. It is a huge responsibility at a time when the church is sidelined, and sheep without a shepherd are doomed. He warned against the examples of leadership in Ezekiel 34 of shepherds who feed off the flock instead of feeding them.
The Presiding Bishop challenged the congregation to see their ministry as going beyond “chaplaincy” that is outreach only to Ghanaian immigrants but also to everyone in North America, since as Methodists we believe that the world is our parish.
Professor Jan Love, Dean of the Candler School of Theology, Emory University, represented the Candler School of Theology at the Induction ceremony on Friday night. The Sunday School of Atlanta Wesley presented a bouquet of flowers and a special akwaaba message to the Presiding Bishop, and we were informed there were 70 children on the church roll. “This is not the future of the church, this is the church now and we need to do all in our power to ensure that they belong,” said the Bishop’s deputy. In recognition of the importance of children and young people in the life of the church, at the service of dedication of the chapel on Saturday the Presiding Bishop cut the tape with some of the Sunday School students, and unveiled the plaque with Youth Fellowship members, one of whom was sister Mary Amon, newly elected President of the NAMD’s Methodist Youth Fellowship. We were treated to exceptionally melodious Ghanaian and Methodist music by the Atlanta Wesley Choir, led by organist Bro. Amos Egyir-Sam, Choirmaster, Bro. Frank Fiifi Dadzie and diocesan music director, Dr. John Wesley Dankwa. Special music composed by Newlove Annan for the induction of the Bishop’s Deputy Sofopon Yema W’Akwaaba, was heartily sung and very well-received. Our “Praise and Worship” choruses were sung by a team led by sister Stella Adusei and others.
The second celebration was the dedication of the 5-acre, $1.2 million property on Rosebud Road, Loganville, GA, on Saturday July 17, 2021. Recounting the history of the acquisition, the Atlanta Circuit Steward, Desmond Yaw Domfeh, recalled the evident hand of God in the entire process. Not only was it discovered later that the church building had appraised 20% below market value facilitating the purchase, but the sellers also offered them terms that did not need getting a bank loan. But probably most importantly, and for the purposes of our history most significant, is the fact that for the first time in the history of MCG & NAMD, a loan of $70k came from the Ghana Conference Office to assist the US church to meet its purchase obligations. In addition to a sanctuary that holds 200 seats, the church building has five offices, three nurseries with built in cabinets, a youth room with a raised stage, and other available facilities.
In congratulating the Atlanta Society for their sacrificial devotion and financial commitment in the acquisition of the edifice, the Presiding Bishop reminded those present of the purpose for dedicating the building, i.e., as a house of prayer for all nations. The day should serve as a re-dedication of ourselves to God’s service, as we were not dedicating only brick and mortar, but human hearts for God’s service. Recalling Jesus’s cleansing of the temple, he exhorted us to never forget the purpose of dedicated chapels. [Mark 11:17; Isaiah 56:7]. The focus of worship should not be entertainment which is human centered but rather God’s glory, and all who leave the church building should have had an encounter with the living God. He ended by praying that like Solomon’s Temple, the aroma in the newly inducted chapel will be prayer and a memorial of God’s presence attested to by the character of those who frequent this house.
The third celebration, which also took place on Saturday July 17, was the induction service for Nana Yaw Sekyere Mensah as Lay Chairman of NAMD. Sekyere Mensah, aged 44, a professional banker and tax accountant, is the youngest person to be elected to such a significant lay leadership role within NAMD. Other than his age, the historicity of the ceremony lies in the fact that this is the first of its kind officiated by the church in Ghana for any of its churches outside Ghana. Previous men who have served in this role were installed in their offices by the leaders here. As a matter of fact, because the former SMC was unable to migrate to the USA for his tenure, the immediate past Lay Chairman, Brother Kwadwo Agyeman was never formally installed into office. As part of the celebration on Friday night therefore, Bro Agyeman was recognized for his service and duly given the gown and medallion, so that he could play his role as one of the leading liturgists in the following day’s induction service for his successor.
To the newly inducted Lay Chairman, the Presiding Bishop, in his sermon, reminded us that Christian leadership is primarily servanthood. We should always remember that our leadership is different from that of the world, as Jesus said, not so among you, Mark 10:43a. The Presiding Bishop indicated that instead of a crisis in leadership, the world is witnessing a crisis in servanthood, as everyone wants to lead without serving.
The fourth celebration, on Sunday July 18, was the commendation and commissioning service for two women and six men who had completed all the requirements to begin their probation as ministers of Methodist Church Ghana, serving within the NAMD. While last year, one of NAMD’s ministers, the Rev. Ebo Edumadze Quainoo, was ordained and this year, David Abubekr was commissioned, at services in Ghana, this is the first time that a group of ministers – eight of them - are being commissioned in NAMD, and on NAMD soil. Additionally, all these ministers were trained and equipped by NAMD-based Ghanaian ministers and laity serving as faculty, using the approved ministerial preparation from MCG. Those commissioned were as follows: Eric Adarkwah, David Baffour Akoto, Comfort Owusu Fordjour, John Kweku Abaka France, Sylvester Owusu-Ansah, Justice Sewu, Grace Sarfo Twum-Antwi and Benjamin Agyei Yeboah.
At the request of the Presiding Bishop, the Bishop’s deputy, Bishop Lartey gave the charge to the newly commissioned ministers. Using 2 Timothy 4:5, he focused on the last three words, fulfill your ministry. In order to do so, Bishop Lartey stated that they needed to always, know the context of the ministry setting; Know the breadth of the ministry and finally the goal for which they do ministry. In this day and age, ministers need to be kept abreast of conspiracy theories ravaging our lands, be well-informed of racial tensions around our people and speak out against the gun violence taking the lives of many of our young ones. Citing a personal dental example, he stated, don’t apply the anesthetic to the wrong jaw. Bishop Lartey referenced the Rules of Wesley for the Guidance of Preachers, especially X1 which shows the variety of service opportunities for fulfilling the ministry. He warned the new ministers to watch out for false prophets who foretell election and football results, but instead be courageous in forthtelling from the Word of God. In all things, we are to remember that the goal of our ministry is to equip our people to be mature in faith – to the measure of fullness of stature of Christ. [Eph 4:12-14].
An amount of $10k [Ten Thousand USD] was raised in appeal for funds for ministerial training.
The Presiding Bishop announced and asked for prayers for the scheduled Expanded General Purposes Council [EGPC] meeting scheduled for August 18-22, 2021, at Tamale. He also asked for prayer and financial support for the ongoing 17-storey head office building in progress in Accra.
Events of such nature, with so many moving parts, require a lot of behind-the-scenes coordination. And especially in the absence of the NAMD Synod Secretary, the Very Rev. Joseph Owusu Atuahene, Superintendent Minister of Toronto Circuit, who could not travel to the USA because of COVID-related travel restrictions. Special thanks are due to the Very Rev. Moses Antwi, Assistant Synod Secretary, acting as Synod Secretary and the Very Rev Dr Samuel Osam-Duodu, resident minister of Atlanta Wesley, who marvelously and effortlessly shouldered the administrative burden for these celebrations.
All the brochures for the celebrations were freely printed by Washington circuit, with production supervised by Drs Adu Osei & Edward Essuman.
Mrs. Rebecca Antwi was recognized for her services in assisting the Methodist Ministers spouses during the past leadership hiatus. A special plaque and an envelope were given to her by Mrs. Helena Boafo.
Conclusion and Impact
Several factors added an additional element to the celebratory mood of the weekend.
First, it is always a delight to host a visit from the church hierarchy. Their presence strengthens the connection and new chapters are envisaged for outreach and mission.
Second, most of those in NAMD had not met on the NAMD level since Synod 2019, and even some in same circuits had not been able to meet in-person because of COVID. The joy of fellowship and reunion was contagious.
Thirdly, as has been the case ever since the outbreak of COVID, the services were livestreamed and the virtual participants, through their comments, were as joyously blessed as those gathering in person. Their comments reflected a desire for connecting beyond the virtual means.
The North America Mission diocese of the Methodist Church Ghana has come a long way. With many lay people trained in preaching and leadership, with the continuous acquisition of properties for worship, and the unceasing desire of Ghanaians to worship in their own familiar way, the future looks very bright. As ministers are now trained and equipped in NAMD, there’s also the possibility that they can be assigned and deployed anywhere in the world that MCG would like to establish a beachhead. The possibilities for global missions are endless.
It has been said that the center of gravity of Christianity has shifted to the global South. In the year 2018, Africa was adjudged the largest Christian continent, and it is estimated that with projected conversion and growth rates, by the year 2050, Africa will not only continue to be the largest, but will have more Christ-followers than the next two continents combined. Thus, the future of Christianity is African – whether on the continent or among the African Diaspora – and is pivotal to the future of the Christian faith itself. And so, these events that seem to be on the margins of societies, humanly speaking, are what God’s word shows in 1 Cor 1:26-31:
26 Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”[d]
Congratulations to all who have been inducted into office and commissioned into ministry. Congratulations to the Atlanta Church and its leadership for their warm welcome and excellent hospitality. May Jesus Christ be praised.
The Very Rev. Dr. Casely B. Essamuah is the immediate past Synod Secretary of the North America Mission Diocese of the Methodist Church Ghana. He now serves the Global Christian Forum as Secretary (Executive Director) and can be reached at email@example.com. The views expressed here are his own, and do not represent any of the organizations which he serves.