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From “Take Off Your Shoes” to “Hallelujah:” The Commissioning of Keith Clark

by Mary Domb Mikkelson

The gathering commenced softly with a piano prelude by Geoff Merrill, so softly Rev. Jeanne Favreau-Sorvillo, pastor of Diamond Bar (CA) United Church of Christ, wondered aloud at the contrast to her congregation’s usual services.  Not to worry; the opening hymn following her welcome “rocked the joint!”  A rousing rendition of “Take Off Your Shoes,” to the beat of drum and guitars, quickly drew the congregation in.  Hands clapping, feet tapping, they made a joyful noise unto the Lord. 

     We were there to celebrate the commissioning of Keith Clark as Executive Associate Conference Minister of the Southern California Nevada Conference (SCNC), United Church of Christ (UCC), to recognize the fulfillment of his studies and to covenant with him in mutual ministry.  The setting was perfect, as was the day.  Light flooded through floor to ceiling garden windows, warmth through doors open to the California sun (80oF on March 4!), happiness and love from those assembled. 

     Continuing in kind with “We Shall be Free” and the reading of Psalm 63:1-8 by the young son of Rev. Sepulona  and Foai Tanuvasa of the First Samoan Church of Los Angeles (UCC) and three other boys from the congregation, the service segued neatly into what I mentally dubbed “the praise and roast” portion of the program.  Speaker after speaker expounded on the talents which brought Keith to this day, while having a bit of gentle fun at his expense.

     First up was Dr. Najeeba Syeed-Miller, one of Keith’s professors at Claremont School of Theology, who noted that “he was in several of my classes, some by choice” before commending him for exemplifying peacemaking and sharing his beliefs with those of his own faith and across religious traditions – and not just when it is easy!”  Among the words she chose were “consistently, persistently and constantly.”

     Rev. Ann Mills of Angel Interfaith Network spoke of Keith “taking hold of the financial rudder” of her organization, “trimming its sails and steering it into a safe harbor – all without reducing the level of service,” then added, “Why would an otherwise sane man step into such a situation?”  In response she explained that “for some mysterious reason he loves administrative challenges and, no, he’s not really an alien creature!”

     Speaking last, Rev. Harold Schultz, SCNC Treasurer, quoted from Luke the story of cloths and wine skins old and new (Mark 2:21-22), adding that “until Keith came on board we at SCNC were trying to do much the same thing.  Two thousand years later we discovered that Jesus was right.”  The newly employed Keith, he added, having discovered the mess they were in, proceeded to “build a boat and learn to sail.”  The word “tenacious” was used in describing Keith’s total revamp of the system which, he added, was “like replacing an airplane’s engine in flight.”  He stressed, as well, Keith’s role in expanding communication within the conference, the founding of Connecting Voices eMagazine and his ability to reach out and involve laypeople in conference activities. 

     Music again filled the room, this time “Hallelujah,” written by Diamond Bar member, Phil Mann and sung by their music director, Aaron Foley.  Foley’s big amazing voice and passion drew the audience in and into the song, which concluded with the final act of standing before God “with nothing on my tongue but ‘Hallelujah!’”  We were one with the music, one with God.

     It was time for the Commissioning Ceremony.  Eastern Association Moderator, Rev. Sue Gallagher, invited all to “chillax” (chill out/relax) as we were lead into this sacred moment.  Conference Minister, Rev. Félix Villanueva, presented Keith, asking the Association to confirm him in his new role.  Gallagher, in turn, invited “Keith, servant of God, to stand with us as a sign of your acceptance.”  Greeting, presentation, exhortation, examination, covenant, the crucial commitments of “I am, I do, I will” and the deed was done.  Holding hands, we circled, affirmed and welcomed “Keith Clark Kent, aka Superman” as Executive Associate Conference Minister – and presented him with the perfect gift – a spa day to unwind and reenergize for where the road leads next. 

     And then it was party time – in the California sunshine.  Good food, good conversation, old friends and new!  A great ending to a special day.

     Congratulations, Keith and congratulations, SCNC!  You did yourselves proud.


2 Responses to “From “Take Off Your Shoes” to “Hallelujah:” The Commissioning of Keith Clark”
  1. John Healy says:

    Well done! But you wouldn’t do it any other way.

  2. Foai Tanuvasa says:

    The 3 boys who Lloyd invited to Keith special day are: Josiah Sala, Kody Ma’o & Jonathan Moliga. They loved it and want to attend another function like this soon.

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