Army Chaplain’s ordination: A ‘BUT GOD’ moment

Story and photos by Daniel R. Gangler*

Indiana Bishop Mike Coyner ordains Tony Hunley in a special service at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Indianapolis. Hunley is surrounded by elders of the conference who also participate in the ordination.

INDIANAPOLIS — Ordaining a minister outside of an annual conference session is a rare event in the corporate life of The United Methodist Church. Such an ordination Tuesday night, July 16, was unique and so is Chaplain Anthony Hunley of the United States Army.

The service was held at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Indianapolis, where Hunley received his call to ministry as a member of the church more than a decade ago. According to the Rev. Rob Fuquay, senior pastor of St. Luke’s Church, “Tony Hunley is the twelfth person to be ordained from this congregation in the past six years.”

Indiana Bishop Mike Coyner called Hunley’s ordination a “BUT GOD” moment during the service attended by more than 250 clergy and laity including the Cabinet, members of Hunley’s ordination class and several members of the Conference Board of Ordained Ministry. Also present were Hunley’s wife, Beth, and their six children.

Coyner said this was the first time he ordained a ministry candidate outside of an annual conference session.

In addition to serving in the Army National Guard as a Captain and Battalion Chaplain based in Kokomo, Ind. north of Indianapolis, Hunley, 43, also is senior pastor of the 125-member Jamestown (Ind.) United Methodist Church northwest of Indianapolis. Because he was serving his country at Camp Arifjan in Kuwait, he could not attend the Indiana Annual Conference Session for ordination June 8, but he did watch the ordination service in Kuwait through live web streaming. During that service, Coyner acknowledged that Hunley was watching through live web streaming and asked the audience to wave and say “Hi” to him, which they did to Hunley’s delight. Hunley thanked the conference the next day on

Coyner’s July 16 sermon titled “BUT GOD” was similar to the one he delivered earlier in June, but tailored to the moment as he spoke to and about Hunley. He said, “When Tony received his order to report to Kuwait for a year, there were many BUT GOD moments that followed. God intervened to make his deployment work.” Coyner said the Jamestown congregation even asked the Cabinet for Hunley to return to them after his deployment.

Coyner recognized that BUT GOD is bad grammar, but, he said, “We must take seriously the reality of sin, evil, brokenness, heartache, pain — BUT GOD is the final answer.” He continued, “Anyone and everyone knows that our world today is one in which we see sin, separation from God, evil-doers and evil deeds, brokenness and heartache, dysfunction and disaster all around us.” The questions remain: How do we respond; how do we engage ministry in the midst of such reality?

Coyner explained that Hunley’s special appointment to military service as a chaplain could have started with a bad situation, BUT GOD worked through many obstacles. The Rev. Mark Wesler agreed to be Jamestown’s interim pastor for a year, when Wesler needed to care for his wife, Brenda, stricken with cancer.

“This is a BUT GOD night to give for the connection, for Tony’s (ordination) classmates… Through all those things, we can say BUT GOD… God has the final word.”

In response to the evening, Hunley said, “This (ordination) is so supportive and the conference thinking outside the box. I also thank the Jamestown Church for taking care of my family while I was gone. This has been an awesome experience.”

Hunley received his call to ministry in the late 1990s while being a part of St. Luke’s Stephen Ministries, lay ministries of care-giving and spiritual growth within the church, and then pursued a seminary education at Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis. Before his call, he was a financial advisor for seven years, which followed several years as an aquatics director for the YMCA.

By tradition United Methodist bishops ordain (Elders) ministers at their annual conference session held once a year. Ministers are ordained only by resident bishops upon the approval of the Conference Board of Ordained Ministry and clergy members of the conference during an executive session at the annual conference. Hunley’s ordination was a unique event in the life of United Methodists in Indiana.

The Indiana Conference of The United Methodist Church continues to be recognized by the Indiana Employer Support of The Guard and Reserve as a Patriotic Employer for its continued support of service members.  This year’s award was given because of the conference’s response to Hunley’s deployment.

*Daniel R. Gangler serves as director of communication for the Indiana Annual Conference.

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