Hazelwood surveys damage wrought by Hurricane Sandy last October in
Belmar, New Jersey.
Photo: Chris Heckert
By Tom Hazelwood
After 15 years at the helm of UMCOR’s US Disaster Response program, the Rev. Tom Hazelwood leaves his position on April 30 to assume a new post, director of Connectional Ministries with the Memphis Annual Conference. He offered this reflection as part of his final address to UMCOR’s board of directors during their semiannual meeting on April 12, 2013, at the headquarters of the General Board of Global Ministries in New York City.
As I give my last report here, I thought I would, like any preacher, read a passage of Scripture and then reflect on its meaning.
The passage is from I Chronicles, chapter 2, beginning at verse 13: “Jesse was the father of Eliab, his first born. The second was Abinadab. The third was Shimea. The fourth was Nethanel; the fifth Raddai; the sixth Ozem; the seventh David. Their sisters were Zeruriah and Abigail. Zeruriah’s three sons were Abishai, Joab, and Asahel. Abigail was the mother of Amasa, whose father was Jether, an Ishmaelite.” And, this, my friends, is the word of God for the people of God.
How many of you have ever preached on this passage? How many of you have ever heard a sermon on this passage? I love Chronicles and the listing of all these names! Anybody who’s ever tried to read through the Bible gets to Chronicles, and that’s when you throw up your hands and surrender! When I was in elementary school, we called them “The Begats”: So-and-so begat So-and-so…. Do you ever wonder why all these names are found in the Scripture?
Why are they in there? You know, you look, and they’re just names, they don’t mean anything to us. It’s much like if I took a single thread, which you can hardly even see, and it’s meaningless. It’s a scrap that I can drop, and it can be swept up and thrown away.
But you take that single thread and you weave it into other fabric, and it can become a part of this beautiful tapestry—have you seen tapestries? How those threads get woven together and create these beautiful scenes—just like any great painting, but all done with thread. So, you take any single thread and it means nothing, but when it gets woven together by the Master Weaver it becomes this beautiful thing.
This is the way the people of the Bible felt about their larger family: that apart from it, any one of them was scarcely more valuable than a snip of thread lying unnoticed on the floor, but within the family, every one of them took on the dignity and beauty of their part in the human tapestry into which they had been woven, thread by thread, begat by begat. "And Attai begat Nathan, and Nathan begat Zabad, and Zabad begat Ephal, and Ephal begat Obed...."
So, the Hebrews sprinkled their Bible with genealogies, having concluded that all that is profound does not have to be poetry and all that sings does not have to be music. That genealogy is as much the Word of the Lord as the Twenty-third Psalm.
I believe that these biblical family lists are a reminder to us that we are all connected. The scripture says, “Out of the stump of Jesse…”—and you see that out of the stump of Jesse there was another name that should have been familiar to you: David. The names, the chronologies of all these families, are tied together in what God is putting together, the history of God’s creation.
As I look at my 15 years at UMCOR and with Global Ministries, and as I look at each of you and recall your names, I consider how each one is a unique thread in the tapestry of what has been and is my ministry. You may think you have nothing to do with me; you may think your thread is meaningless when it comes to me and my life. But consider, as I do, how our threads have been woven together over these past 15 years. I appreciate each one of you as significant, part of a thing of beauty, woven into the tapestry of my ministry. And at the same time, that thread that is Tom Hazelwood is a part of the fabric, the tapestry, that is UMCOR, and part of the fabric of Global Ministries.
Any single strand of thread representing any one of us alone may seem meaningless, but they are all woven together in what God is doing in the ministry of The United Methodist Church. They all fit together.
As I have sojourned through this ministry for the past decade and a half, it has been a tremendous privilege and honor for me to serve the church in this way.
I’m looking forward to the ministry that lies ahead of me, and it’ll be different. I know it will be very, very different, but also, it will be meaningful, and it will be a part of that tapestry God is weaving together that is my life's ministry. And where our threads have intertwined is to me a beautiful piece of my life, and I hope that the thread that is mine is a beautiful piece of your life and ministry as well.
The ministry of UMCOR will continue. That tapestry will continue to be woven as you make decisions each time the board meets and as we continue to serve the least, the last, and the lost. That tapestry continues to be woven. In some places the threads go one direction, and in other places the threads go in the other direction, but it’s all a piece of the whole.
What an honor it has been for me to be a part of this ministry. Over the years, I have had the privilege of growing professionally through the learning and the trials of working in disaster response, a very different kind of ministry than parish ministry. Probably most important for me are the personal relationships I’ve had with many if not all of you, in this room. Our relationships shape who we are, how we do ministry together, and how we serve those who are dependent upon the grace of God working in our midst. There are so many who depend upon the grace of God to touch the hearts of others so that UMCOR can have resources to help put lives back together once they’ve been broken by disaster or by whatever calamity comes along.
Thank God the church, The United Methodist Church, has Global Ministries. Thank God The United Methodist Church has the United Methodist Committee on Relief to address people’s specific needs through this ministry that is ours together.
So, what a privilege it is for me to have been a part of what God has been doing through UMCOR over the course of these past 15 years. And what a privilege it is for me to know that as I step away, my friend Greg Forrester steps into this role, to lead the US Disaster Response program going forward.