The Retirement Recognition Service was held Friday morning at the Cox Convention Center to honor four retiring bishops: Ann B. Sherer-Simpson, William W. Hutchinson, D. Max Whitfield and Charles N. Crutchfield. Each bishop was introduced and given an opportunity to speak. Their retirements are effective Aug. 31, 2012.
“Lord, there is no way to arrive to this moment without you,” said Bishop Robert E. Hayes, Jr., as he gave the opening prayer. “We come to celebrate all the distance they have traveled, experiences they have had. Lord, you have brought them thus far along the way.
“Remember the work they have done among us,” said Hayes in closing his prayer.
Bishop Joe A. Wilson, introduced Sherer-Simpson, who has served 20 years as bishop. Wilson noted her many accomplishments, in particular her service as president of the Commission on the Status and Role of Women and UMC's General Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns.
Elected in 1992, Sherer-Simpson was the first woman to be elected bishop in the South Central Jurisdiction. She wore the stole that was made by and represented women from the 17 conferences of that time.
“It has been incredible to serve the churches in Texas, Missouri and Nebraska,” said Sherer-Simpson. She said that she is a different woman than four years ago. “I have my notes on the iPad and I’ve added Wayne.” She was married in 2009 to Wayne Simpson.
Sherer-Simpson’s remarks were less self-reflective and bore a message of hope and resilience for the church.
She talked about how unlikely it was for a girl from the Appalachian Mountains to have the opportunity to see things all over the world. She named the small places she has been such as White Oak, Texas; Cooter, Mo.; and Melbeta, Neb., in contrast to her travels to Mozambique and other places in the world.
“In all those places I find that God’s people are doing incredible things,” said Sherer-Simpson.
“I’ve also known pain and disappointment. I’ve come to believe that the bedrock of our faith is that there is absolutely no dead end,” she said. “When we walk in the wilderness, we find water in the rocks, when we’re in the flood; there is a tiny sprig of green, a rainbow and promise in the sky. I have discovered the truth – that in the midst of crucifixion, when every rational person says this is a dead end, we see the risen Christ. There is no dead end.”
The delegates responded with “amens” and applause as Sherer-Simpson called the church to hope and a future.
“We have found it true in our life together and I have absolute confidence in God who makes all things new. I can’t wait to see what you will do with the power of God’s Spirit,” she said.
Bishop Charles N. Crutchfield introduced Bishop William W. Hutchinson and recognized his 12 years of service as an episcopal leader.
“Bill and Kay Hutchinson have served with style, distinction, integrity and dignity. You epitomize what an episcopal family ought to be,” Crutchfield said.
Under the pastoral tutelage of Pastor Sam Freeman, Hutchinson said he heard his call in high school following a presentation on what it was like to be a recovering alcoholic from J.F. McAdams, a lay leader in the church.
“In a talk to high school students, delivered through a layman, God spoke to me. It was distinct. It was a call I didn’t want to hear and did not want to accept. I ran for four years,” Hutchinson said.
As a pre-law student in college he thought he could overcome the call. He answered the call while attending the University of Oklahoma where he also met his wife. He entered Duke University for his seminary work.
He talked about the New Mexico conference being his family of origin and about Louisiana as their second home. They will retire to Las Cruces.
Hutchinson expressed gratitude for the opportunity to conclude disaster recovery work in Louisiana and noted the in-kind volunteer work contributions of the church valued at $105,222,000.
“We will be walking along side you and will be with you in person or in spirit,” he said. “ May God bless you in abundance always.”
Bishop Janice Riggle Huie introduced Bishop Max Whitfield and recognized his 47 years in ministry. She said his ability to build bridges across divides and with people who are polarized makes him a “both, and” kind of guy.
Whitfield responded with comments about not knowing what is appropriate for such an occasion.
“The best I can say is how blessed God has been to me,” Whitfield said.
He said he was blessed to be called into ordained ministry and never imagined an Arkansas hillbilly, raised in a small congregation, could be called by God into ministry. He said he realized that God calls ordinary people and that an extraordinary God can use ordinary people.
Whitfield gave credit to his wife Valery for teaching him to be courageous in the face of difficulties. He expressed gratitude to the great pastors of Arkansas, who upon his appointment inundated him with grace and opportunities that he said exceeded his ability.
“I am confident of one thing, the years behind us are not the best, and the years ahead of us will be the very best. We have an awesome God that goes with us. Nothing in all creation can separate us,” concluded Whitfield.
Bishop Hutchinson introduced Bishop Charles N. Crutchfield and his wife Karen. The two bishops became friends when they met and talked at length at a laundry mat when they both attended Duke Divinity School. Their friendship continued when they were appointed in New Mexico.
“It was a joy to escort him to the platform when he was elected and serve alongside him the past eight years,” Hutchinson said. “He helped us to be more educated, have a better vocabulary and be more careful about jumping conclusions. He has been a wonderful leader of the Arkansas Annual Conference and has helped move them forward in effectiveness and sustainability.”
Crutchfield met and married Karen who traveled to the mission field with him; work that has occupied them for 44 years. “Whatever I have been privileged to accomplish or receive is due to Karen’s unfailing love, faith and wonderful partnership. I would not be standing here but for her and her graciousness, Crutchfield said.
Crutchfield is moved by the potential of Imagine No Malaria and ability to be part of a worldwide movement to save the lives of children under five.
He said he’ll miss the people and churches of the Arkansas Conference who took two outsiders in and welcomed them to the family. He appreciates the Arkansas Conference’s willingness to journey through the wilderness noting that change is the heart of gospel and it’s called transformation.