In a combination roast and emotional farewell, representatives from various denominations and groups assembled in the Professional Development Center at Life Care Centers of America to wish the Church of God bishop well in his new church mission assignment in Ireland.
The salute to Sylverston came during a monthly gathering of the Ministerial Association which was also attended by local and state government representatives who voiced their appreciation of the man who brought a whole new face to diversity in the Cleveland and Bradley County area community.
Sylverston, who founded the Ministerial Association nine years ago, has served as its president the entire time. He will be succeeded by Vice President Jamison Work in an interim role until new officer elections are held in January.
Wednesday’s salute took even deeper meaning when Sylverston — a man best known for bringing together people of different views and interests — led a communion and benediction among the multi-denominational group.
“As far as I know, (this) has not been done in Cleveland, Tennessee,” the honoree said as he acknowledged, and thanked, the attendance of church pastors and other leaders representing most major denominations in the community.
The joint communion is not about who’s a Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran, Church of God, Episcopalian or other faiths, he stressed. Nor is it about who’s black, white, red, yellow or other ethnic groups; instead, it is about unity — the bringing together of diverse views and beliefs under one roof in a single cause in celebration of a common deity, Sylverston added.
“I could stand here for an hour explaining to you some of the highlights I have experienced (over the years),” he told the group. But the multi-denominational communion, Sylverston said, is “the” highlight.
Fellow pastors, ministers, bishops, government representatives and civic leaders joined in the communion, but not before praising Sylverston’s influence on the community and his zeal in bringing together the denominations.
“Daniel has spread himself throughout the community ... he has been effective and we thank God for him,” said the Rev. Edward Robinson, who led the gathering in an opening scripture and invocation.
Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland, who co-founded the ORMS organization with Sylverston, offered a few light-hearted comments about his good friend, but closed with a heartfelt farewell. Rowland said Sylverston’s past work has been honored by municipal leaders with a proclamation and later a key to the city. The mayor’s appearance Wednesday was “ ... simply in voice and love for Daniel.”
On a lighter note, he credited Sylverston with bringing together many denominations, and that Sylverston himself represents as many as five nationalities. The Church of God bishop was born in South Africa, has an East Indian heritage and lives in Southeast Tennessee. Rowland comically referred to him as a “South African hillbilly.”
“Daniel has meant a lot to a lot of areas in this community,” the 19-year Cleveland mayor said. “He has been a pastor for the entire community.” He credited Sylverston for his involvement in leading the community’s mass prayer for military groups like the Marines and National Guard prior to deployment to Mideast battlegrounds.
Rowland said he remember when the Ministerial Association was just in its infancy, nothing more than a few pastors getting together occasionally for lunch. “Daniel has brought this organization together in a marvelous way,” he said.
State Rep. Kevin Brooks, himself a newly ordained bishop within the Church of God, praised Sylverston for his influence in organizing the Ministerial Association, an organization that Brooks said has been supportive of his work in state government.
“It is not uncommon for me in any setting to remind people that in my alphabet my REV. title comes before my REP. title,” Brooks said. He pointed out the Cleveland Bradley Ministerial Association is highly respected by Nashville lawmakers.
Brooks described Sylverston as his “brother in Christ,” and to the honoree he offered, “We will feel your absence ... it will remind us to pray for you and your family as you go to work with your new family (in his Ireland mission work).”
Beecher Hunter, president of Life Care which annually hosts one of the Ministerial Association’s monthly gatherings, presented Sylverston with a replica of the lighthouse at Sandy Hook, N.J., which he said is given as an inspirational reminder to all new administrators and nursing directors at Life Care. The reminder is that they are keepers of the light and their responsibility is protecting, and saving, human lives.
Hunter paralleled this to the ministerial work of those attending Wednesday’s meeting. Christians, he offered, are charged with “minding the light,” a symbolic reference to saving the lives of others spiritually, emotionally and physically.
Hunter told the story of the Sandy Hook lighthouse and how its legacy is remembered as “Kate’s Light.” Katherine Walker was the wife of lighthouse keeper John Walker. In spite of her fear of water, Kate became the lighthouse keeper in honor of her late husband and was credited with saving as many as 50 lives in this role.
On Sept. 14, 1996, the U.S. Coast Guard commissioned its newest 175-foot buoy tender the USCGC Katherine Walker in her honor. Hunter presented the lighthouse replica to Sylverston as a reminder to “Mind the Light” because lives will be saved.
Yaunna Higgins, director of New Hope Pregnancy Center, described Sylverston as a man who has always “stood for life in this community.” She added, “We’re incredibly grateful.”
Dr. Tammy Johnson, director of the LUDIC autism program on the Lee University campus, credited Sylverston for his role in supporting the initiative’s development. It is called the “One in 100” program. With Sylverston’s support, it has been developed via multi-denominational cooperation.
The Rev. Kay Horner also acknowledged Sylverston’s support for New Hope and pointed to his role in helping to organize the “Cry Out America” initiative in Bradley County. “Cry Out America” is a community prayer service held on 9/11.
The Rev. Jamison Work said many of the community’s multi-denominational campaigns succeeded only because of Sylverston’s leadership and his belief in groups and people working together.
“God brought this man to us for just this time ... to show us by working together we can do so much,” Work offered. He added, “(Daniel has) been God’s instrument for Cleveland and Bradley County.”