The Holy Spirit's Creativity in Three Lives: Remembering The Rev. Candace Cessna

December 20, 2007

Three women … their stories intertwined.


Two were embarking on United Methodist Ministry as a second career. One was a career licensed school counselor in Arizona who later moved to California; the other was a Human Resource career employee in Virginia. Both had married and had a daughter and a son. Both received a Master’s of Divinity degree from a respected seminary.


Both had goals of being a Certified Pastoral Counselor. One was on the Elder’s track for ordination in the California-Nevada Annual Conference with dreams of completing her Doctorate of Ministry degree, while the other enrolled in Wesley Seminary in Washington, D.C. and was on the Deacon track for ordination in the Virginia Annual Conference.


Their paths diverged when on January 16, 2007 the Rev. Candace Cessna, pastor of Woodside Road UMC in Redwood City, California, joined the One whom Isaiah prophesied would be called “Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace.” Her goals of completing her Doctorate of Ministry and becoming a Certified Pastoral Counselor ended, in death she transitioned to life eternal.


But her dream of becoming a Pastoral Counselor is still alive in the Rev. Jean Hankins, who is now pursuing a Master’s degree in Social Work at Virginia Commonwealth University. She is also on staff at Dranesville United Methodist Church in the Virginia Annual Conference, serving as the Minister of Congregational Care. This, along with supervision of her case management by a certified counselor, will allow her to complete licensing requirements and to be certified by the American Association of Pastoral Counselors – thus fulfilling her dream and Candace’s.


But you will remember that there is a third woman in this story. She is Commander Barbara M. Williams of Arlington, Virginia – a member of the Chaplain Corps, U.S. Navy.


Barbara’s journey on this earth was not an easy one, involving three different periods of hospitalization over a 30-year period – but it was an inspirational one, as her friend and colleague, The Rev. Dr. O. Ray Fitzgerald of the California-Pacific Annual Conference, can attest. Inspirational, in fact, even as it ended.


Fitzgerald, a retired Captain in the U.S. Navy Chaplain Corps and Diplomat in the American Association of Pastoral Counselors, was Barbara’s spiritual friend and mentor. He encouraged her to present hospitalization and treatment from the perspective of a patient to students of Clinical Pastoral Education. He also presided over her final rite in burial at Arlington National Cemetery following her death in the spring of 2007, and it was he who ensured that Barbara’s dream of women in high level leadership would live on –through Jean Hankins.


Rev. Fitzgerald guided $10,000 in scholarship funds from the estate of Barbara Williams to Dranesville UMC, where the scholarship will assist Jean Hankins in the pursuit of her Master of Social Work degree. Jean says, “May God bless Candace’s and Barbara’s memories as I carry forward their dream of being a pastoral counselor.”


Rev. Fitzgerald offers this story as a tribute to the Rev. Candace Cessna, as the anniversary of her death approaches.


(In photo above Jean Hankins is shown with her pastor, the Rev. Tim Craig, receiving a $10,000 scholarship toward her Master of Social Work studies from the estate of Commander Barbara M. Williams.)