Presented by Lin Story-Bunce at the Baptist Women in Ministry in NC, March 17, 2016
The Anne Thomas Neil Award is given to ministers who have played a significant role in supporting, calling and creating space for women to serve in ministry. It is truly an honor to present this award to a dear friend who happens also to be my esteemed colleague, Michael Usey. It is also my pleasure – because for the next couple minutes you are completely at the mercy of whatever I might say about you… and there is a whole page of notes here.
I think Michael would say his support for women began sometime in middle school – and carried him right on through Southern Seminary after which be met his lovely wife, Ann. For a time, Michael served at Seventh and James Baptist Church in Waco and at Oakhurst Baptist Church in Atlanta before coming to College Park Baptist Church, Greensboro in 1995. College Park has been surfing along with this Southern California dude ever since.
That, in itself, speaks volumes about his ministry. 21 yrs is a long relationship for a pastor and congregation. Perhaps its because he believes no one else would have him – and that might be true. He doesn’t shy away from difficult texts or hard conversation or dicey social issues. In fact, I’m pretty sure he seeks those out. Michael follows the spirit’s calling with no real caution for his own sake. This guy rode a motorcycle through seminary – he lives on the edge – but he is not risky simply for risks sake – but because following the gospel of Jesus won’t let him be any other way. He leads with courage and conscience – with a pastoral voice but uncompromising morals.
And so, it was only fitting that he landed at College Park. It was their mutual love for the divine rebel-rousing spirit that drew them together. Michael inherited a congregation that was already working diligently and prophetically to stand on the right side of history. Before Michael, College Park ordained women, had women on staff, encouraged women to serve as deacons, and provided a platform for speaking again racism during the civil rights movement.
Michael spirit was one in the same – having already served on the board of Planned Parenthood in TX, he jumped right in with the board here, too.
What is lovely about Michael is that though he takes his calling seriously, he does not take himself too seriously. He enjoys sharing in ministry with others. He has served with us – BWIMNC board, Michael has always had at least one female colleague serving with him, if not two or more and his pulpit is open, especially to women voices.
We honor Michael this evening not only for his work in creating and opening the space for women, but for his commitment to opening the space for all God’s children and recognizing the importance of valuing all voices. And he could have done this in the world of academia; and he could have carried this into hospital chaplaincy; but his passion has always been for the church. For that we are grateful.
Michael leads prayerfully, with a vision toward extending the kingdom of God. Because of that, he has challenged us to be a congregation who does not sit passively through the moral issues of today, but who thinks critically about how to get involved. Under Michael’s leadership, College Park been greatly enriched – with Michael, CP ordained its first openly gay deacon; started and extended hospitality to a refugee resettlement ministry; started a child hunger backpack club and The 3 Nickels Campaign for International Missions; hosted the rally against Amendment One; began celebrating marriages for all its couples … The list goes on and on.
Perhaps most admirable, in my mind, is Michael’s natural way of being with people in the midst of life. You leave lasting impressions on people – in good ways. You have a knack for finding the sacred in ordinary moments. You carry our joys and sorrows with us. You do this “little” work of ministry with as much passion as you do your preaching and teaching. You have a way of nurturing and calling out the gifts of young people. You are so clearly doing what you are called to do. We give thanks for you.
In the words of his friend, Charles Johnson: Michael is raw and refined, irrepressible and irresistible, swinging for the fences, aiming for the heart, a lion escaped from the San Diego zoo, the M-bodiment of friendship. He is a man after God’s own heart and we need a thousand more like him.
As his friend, Greg Mobley, says … He gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; and to one, the whole package . . . except filters. And that’s why we love him so.
Michael, you are easily one of the best people and Christians any of us knows. Thank you, Michael for your ministry and your friendship to us all.