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For Such a Time as This

by Rachel Chapman, Christian Fellowship UCC, San Diego, CA

Jessica Rae ChapmanThe four o’clock hour was approaching. Jazz notes were coming from the chancel, pews were filling with family and friends as greetings and introductions were made. Sightings of the gathering procession of clergy from the UCC, other denominations and faith traditions caused awe and increased anticipation. On this day, July 26, 2015, history was being made with the ordination service of Jessica Rae Chapman.

Jessica Chapman, a member of Christian Fellowship Congregational Church, UCC, graduated from Wake Forest University, School of Divinity in 2014 and has a call of Chaplain Resident at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston Salem, NC. She has spent this past year as a Chaplain Resident at the same medical center in the trauma and burn units. During this time, MID Chapman worked with the SCNC Southern Association’s Section A of Church and Ministry to complete all the requirements needed to be approved for ordination. It was not a smooth or easy process as distance, questions of curriculum, misplacement of completed documents and projects, and even subtle biased attitudes relating to womanist theology  and ethnic diversity created challenges. You see, Jessica is the first African American woman ordained in the Southern Association and the third ordained in the Southern California Nevada Conference with the last being in 1987. She is the first person to be ordained in the history of Christian Fellowship Congregational Church, UCC. The anticipation has been building for such a time as this.

After a warm welcome to all was given by Rev. J. Lee Hill, Jr., Senior Pastor of Christian Fellowship, the choir led the congregation and processional of clergy in several rousing verses of “Siyahamba” to set the tone for the Spirit filled service.  Attendees also enjoyed musical selections from New Vision of Praise Jazz ensemble, including a rendition of “Excellent”. Ashley Chapman Kenneth, Jessica’s sister, read an original poem titled “Called”. People have requested copies so it can be found at the end of this article.

The message was given by the Reverend Maria Teresa Jones, Chaplain for Staff Support at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. Using the scripture from Esther 4:11-17, Rev. Maria reminded the attendees of how Esther went before the king to stand up for her people. She compared the work Jessica does in the community, working with underserved and marginalized people, often being their voice as well as their source of comfort at such a time as needed.

There was no doubt the Holy Spirit was in the church when Arnessa Rickett and the Christian Fellowship Choir sang the transitional song, “I Give Myself Away”. Some sat with eyes closed in meditative reflection; many stood with uplifted hands singing along; all were in stages of praise and worship.Jessica Rae Chapman laying hands

Dante Griggs, Past Moderator of the Southern Association, welcomed all to the ordination service. The greeting from Rev. Felix Villanueva, conference minister for the Southern California Nevada Conference, included words of challenge and commitment. Rev. Villanueva shared that this is one of the most diverse conferences, made up of 145 churches. He commented that for Jessica to be only the third African American woman ordained in this conference indicates there is work to be done to welcome all who are called to ministry. Rev. Felix went on to reference questions and comments raised at Jessica’s ecclesiastical council, which were perceived by many as racist and sexist, calling for sensitivity training. He commended her on the work she has done on her journey to answer her call and then made a commitment to Jessica that all women seeking ordination in this conference will be treated respectfully.  The service then continued with participation by Mr. Griggs, Rev. Darryl Kistler, Rev. Mary Sue Brookshire, and Rev. Elvin Harrison. Rev. Maria Jones directed the laying on of hands which is “the symbolic act whereby the church in every age recognizes God’s call to ministry in the lives of faithful women and men, and asks the Holy Spirit to confer on them gifts for ordained ministry”.1   The service culminated with Rev. Jessica Rae Chapman implementing the sacrament of Communion.

Rev. Chapman was met with congratulatory words, embraces, gifts and blessings from her ordination committee, church members, guests and her now colleagues, giving glory to God for such a time as this.

1 The Book of Worship

Called
By Ashley Chapman Kenneth (printed with permission)

Go Sister
Walk into your calling
For you are blessed
God is good
And you are truly blessed
Your cup, it runs over
With everything you need to succeed
In this moment
You are able.

Go Sister
Step bravely into your calling
For you are chosen
Before the beginning of time
God knew the map of your life
And placed you on this journey
Leading you to service.

Go Sister
Dance fiercely into your calling
For you are loved
Surrounded by joyous light
You are fearfully and wonderfully made
Remarkably set apart
And your life matters.

Go Sister
Run into your calling
For you are needed
The world is yearning
For your leadership
You’re changing minds
You’re changing lives
You’re a catalyst.

Move Sister
Travel into a new space
Forge a new path
Go forward
Change history
Build her-story

Honor our ancestors

The book is open
The page is blank
And you have the pen

With God’s direction
You cannot fail.
With God’s love
You will not lose.
With God’s grace
You have a divine and purposeful gift.

Now go
Sister
For you…
You are called.

For Jessica Rae Chapman
On her ordination
July 26, 2015

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