Last Saturday, my wife was one of several recent retirees from the University of West Georgia who were honored for their many years of service. There was a very nice luncheon at the country club in Carrollton, Ga., where the food was some of the best I have eaten at one of these affairs, and family members were invited to attend with the honoree.
The president of UWG gave a tremendous report on how well the university was doing — excellent, as it turns out, the best in the history of the institution — and, after some preliminaries and business, the men and women were honored, each with a medallion. As each person’s name was presented, he or she had the medallion draped on his or her neck, had a special photo taken, and was asked to say a few words.
There was also a special booklet listing the biographies and featuring the photos of each retiree. And here is what I liked the most about the event. The names were listed alphabetically and each honoree had their own page on which were listed their job titles, the number of years at the university, their responsibilities, educational history and so forth. The honorees were not listed according to the “importance” of their position.
My wife has four degrees including a Ph.D. and she was a retiring professor and associated dean. But you had to read her bio to find that out.
Whether one was a professor, dean, provost, in administration, management, human resources, information technology, custodial services, athletics, campus law enforcement, secretary, maintenance, or whatever — the clear impression was given that each person was a vital part of the UWG family and that each and every position was not to be valued over the other. Frankly, I loved it.
Everyone was treated as an equal, each received the same medallion, each had an opportunity to speak, and no one’s title was on their name tag. Each and every tag had the person’s name accompanied by a ribbon that said, “Honoree.” And every retiree was proud of their service as an employee of the University of West Georgia. It’s just that not everyone had the same responsibilities — but that all were valued and respected.
I have thought for years that church should be like that too. Who is the most important person in the church? According to the New Testament, each individual is a vital part of the “Body of Christ” with Christ being the head of the Body. It’s not “Brother John’s Church,” or “Father James’ Church,” or “Bishop Harold’s church.” Everyone, and I mean everyone, is a vital and important part of the Church.
The musicians, the singers, the greeters, the custodians, the nursery workers, the sound and video techs, the teachers, those who are able to give a lot, those who are able to give very little, the mature, the immature, the elderly, the children, the Baby Boomers, the X Gens, the Millennials, the men, the women, the youth, those with a formal position, those without, a formal position — all are vital and valued, Even the clergy are a part of this thing we call “Church.”
Too often, we see distinctions being made among people, even in the church. I saw a website recently in which some ministers were being touted and lavishly praised as “apostles,” or “prophets,” or “bishops”, or “anointed teachers and global leaders” as though such people somehow were greater than, say, the lady who empties the wastebasket or the man who quietly takes communion to the hospital.
It was Jesus, after all, who said that “the last shall be first” and that it was “the meek” who would “inherit the earth.”
On the one hand, it was wonderful to see what happened at the UWG luncheon and, on the other hand, it was humbling to see it happen, and done so well, at a “secular university” when it so seldom happens in a “divine institution,” the Church.
Perhaps we can learn a lesson in humility. But more importantly, perhaps we can learn a lesson in how to value others, to respect all, to understand that all are vital and important, even though their tasks may be dissimilar.
Perhaps the Church can learn from this university to “give honor to whom honor is due.” Which includes all, whomever they may be and whatever they may do.
[David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, Sharpsburg, GA (www.ctkcec.org)., 4881 Hwy. 34 East, Sharpsburg, GA. Sunday services are at 10:00 a.m. He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese which consists of Georgia and Tennessee (www.midsouthdiocese.org). He may contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.]