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A Sacrificial Circuit Rider

Recently a dear friend died – Rev. Burney Cope.  Burney was a member of the Oklahoma Conference. More personally, Burney served as my wife’s pastor when she was a middle school aged young person.  Later, he served as the Ardmore District Superintendent.  During that time I served as a part-time Youth Director at First United Methodist Church in Ardmore, Oklahoma.  He was wonderfully supportive of this young seminarian.  On August 16, 1976, Rev. Burney Cope performed our wedding service. During his remarkable and remarkably faithful ministry, Rev. Burney Cope had the distinction of being perhaps the last Circuit Rider who had begun his first circuit riding a horse.  Burney lived for Christ and His church in a way that was both joyous and sacrificial.  It is the combination of the two that blesses me. He was committed to itinerancy, to the notion that he was called to serve even when he didn’t get the appointment he wanted.  He was committed to the conviction that joy and sacrificial service are connected. All of this is rolling around in my heart and mind as I approach the next appointive Cabinet session on Monday and Tuesday (April 4-5).  Increasingly people are unwilling to fully itinerate.  We routinely have more (far more!) requests to serve in the urban/suburban areas than we have appointments available.  The sacrificial notion of itinerancy is often treated as unfair.  And yet, such sacrifice lies at the heart of the Wesleyan vision of the Christian faith.  Starting his ministry on horseback, Burney understood this truth.  Today we are challenged to embrace this conviction.  Furthermore, a lack of willingness to itinerate is incompatible with the guaranteed appointment.  There is much to reflect on and pray about as we head to another session of making appointments.  I am blessed by Burney’s life and witness.