Faith Matters: Unitarian Church of BR to ordain minister

By Terry Robinson

Advocate staff writer

Photo provided by Steve Crump -- Nathan A. Ryan, assistant minister, of the Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge will be ordained by the congregation on Sunday.
Photo provided by Steve Crump -- Nathan A. Ryan, assistant minister, of the Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge will be ordained by the congregation on Sunday.

When the call to the ministry came at age 17, Nathan Ryan was willing, but not ready, to answer.

"I didn't feel like I could serve people if I hadn't been into the real world," he said.

After graduating from LSU, earning a master's degree and years of service in the church, Ryan said he is ready.

On Sunday, the Slidell native will be ordained as a minister in the Unitarian Universalist ministry. The historic event is set for 5:30 p.m. at the Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge, 8470 Goodwood Blvd.

"In our religious tradition, only the congregation can ordain a minister," the church's lead pastor, the Rev. Steve Crump, said in an email. "And it is historic because our 62- year-old congregation has never conducted an ordination before."

Ryan, 33, attended the Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge while a student at LSU from 1998 to 2002.

"This is the church that really gave me the grounding I needed to start the beginning stages of going into the ministry," he said. "This is the church where it took root, and it took root in ways that pushed me toward social justice and activism and advocating for a healthier, cleaner, less oppressive world."

After earning his undergraduate degree in psychology from LSU, Ryan gained ministry experience at churches in Dallas and Austin, Texas, and gained further experience at Chicago's Meadville Lombard Theological Seminary and an internship in the Washington, D.C., area. He earned his master of divinity degree in May.

He joined the Baton Rouge congregation as an assistant minister in August. His duties have included pastoral care, small-group ministry, membership integration and young adult ministry.

For Ryan, ordination is a continuation of a life of service in a faith that he has always known. He attended the North Shore Unitarian Universalist Society in Lacombe through his pre-teen years and later joined the First Unitarian Universalist Church in New Orleans.

"I grew up in a culture that didn't fully embrace God's love or the basic idea that we're all good and holy people, and the church offered a sanctuary for that," he said. "Seeing the life-transforming power of the church has helped me to see I wanted to give my life to build that for other people."

‘Jewish Mardi Gras'

Leave it to a congregation in New Orleans to celebrate a Jewish holiday Mardi Gras style.

The Anshe Sfard Synagogue, 2230 Carondelet St., New Orleans, will hold a Community Purim Party at 7 p.m. Saturday, complete with masks, costumes, dancing, food and drinks.

"It's been called the Jewish Mardi Gras," Rabbi David Polsky said. "The reason is because there is this idea of dressing up and partying."

Purim commemorates the deliverance of the Jewish people in the ancient Persian Empire. According to the Book of Esther, Haman, a royal official to the king, led a plot to kill all the Jews in the empire. But his plans were foiled by Mordecai and Queen Esther.

"Basically, it's a celebration of the Jewish people saved from being wiped out," said Polksy, a native of New York who has been at the synagogue for 1 1/2 years.

Purim, as determined by Judaism's lunar/solar calendar, typically comes in February or March.

One custom of the holiday is the reading of Esther in Hebrew - called the Megillah reading - which Polsky will start in the synagogue.

"It's going to be lot of fun ... as long as you don't mind me reading Hebrew for 45 minutes," Polksy said.

A common practice during the reading is booing at every mention of the villain Haman's name, Polksy said. "Lots of people have come up with creative ways to make noise when Naman's name comes up."

The Purim party follows in the social hall with The Bone Tone Jazz Band performing. A $10 donation is suggested for the party.

Equipping pastors

God can use a broken vessel, but he won't use an unclean vessel, the Rev. K. Edward Copeland, of Rockville, Ill., told church leaders attending a recent conference in Baton Rouge.

"You're not likely to get kicked out of a church because you can't preach, but you're very likely to get kicked out if your character is defective," Copeland said. "It's what you do outside the pulpit that brings credibility to what you say."

Copeland's workshop discussion culminated the three-day Pastors Equipping Pastors Expository Preaching Conference at Mount Zion First Baptist Church in Baton Rouge. The theme of the conference was "Grasping the Word" taken from Luke 9:45.

Copeland, whose workshop "Riding the Second Chariot" was geared to assistant ministers, reminded church leaders to get back to the fundamentals.

One area Copeland mentioned was evangelism.

"If you're not willing to evangelize to the lost personally, are you really worthy to be preaching to the saved," he said. "When you go out, do the people who don't know you're a pastor know you're a Christian?"

More than 130 pastors and ministers from throughout Louisiana and southern Mississippi participated in the conference on Feb. 7-9, said Diane Brown, conference organizer and wife of Mount Zion pastor the Rev. Ren é Brown.

Other workshops included sermon preparation, preparing the preacher, preaching to Generation X and preaching expository sermons.

René Brown, head of the Pastors Division of the Fourth District Baptist Association, which sponsored the event, said training pastors helps congregations. "If the pastors are learning better techniques, the people will gain more knowledge because everybody learns differently."

Praise on campus

The LSU student organization Disciples on Campus is inviting the community to campus for a night of praise and worship. Rise 2013, a free worship concert, will begin at 8 p.m. Saturday at the LSU Union Theatre.

"The Disciples On Campus is excited to work alongside The Bridge Church-Baton Rouge to bring this amazing experience to the city," said Damiane Ricks, a member of The Bridge Church. "The DOC is a vibrant, young group of men and women who love God and want to invite the LSU community and beyond to freely worship him in song."

Artists from across the country will participate in concert, including Daniel Luna, of Los Angeles; jazz pianist virtuoso Jordan Baker; drummer Chris Vallejos; bass player Malcolm Turner; and singers Betty Collins and Gary Randall.

Go to http://www.facebook.com/Rise2013BR.

Faith Matters runs every other Saturday in The Advocate. Terry Robinson can be reached at (225) 388-0238 or email trobinson@theadvocate.com