Jan 30 2013

Grand Rapids District: Being Itinerant

Original post at http://www.grdistrictumc.org/2013/01/being-itinerant/

It’s that time of year.  For the connectional United Methodist Church and her itinerant clergy the season of appointment making has begun.  I remember, as a pastor serving a local church especially some years into an appointment, getting a bit nervous when the phone rang during these months.  I remember one year when my daughter, who was old enough and experienced enough to know how things worked, answered a call from the superintendent.  Calling me to pick up the phone she shouted loud enough for the person on the other end to hear, “Dad it’s Denny, and I’m not moving!”  That call wasn’t about an appointment, but I understood the sentiment.

Our system of appointing clergy to churches has some very real struggle points and, for my money, some really wonderful aspects as well.  The struggle points we all know.  Most of us know or perhaps have even experienced the pain of an appointment that didn’t go well.  A match that looked good on paper, was carefully considered and prayed about by the Bishop and Cabinet, but simply down the road (sometimes not too far down the road), didn’t work.  And hurt and damage occurred because pastor and people could not find ways to come together.  Most of us if we have been around the church very long at all know those stories.

I have experienced a different story.  I have had five appointments in my 30 years in active service as a United Methodist pastor.  In each transition I did not initiate the move nor did the church I was serving.  In every case the Bishop and Cabinet asked me to go to a new place where they prayerfully believed my gifts would best care for the needs of that church.  Often the church I was serving at the time suggested that the move would be detrimental, I often wondered in the moment why it was necessary to uproot my family (most often including my wife’s job as a teacher), to a new place when things were going well where we were.  But in the end, I believed that God was in it, that God indeed works through our system.

Never was that a mistake.  In our last local church appointment, to Mt. Hope in Lansing, we were leaving a wonderful church where we had all kinds of plans for the next steps in moving ministry forward together and it was particularly difficult to leave and move to this new place.  But since I was an itinerant UMC pastor we went forward.  The grief was real in leaving, but as we moved towards the new appointment in Lansing God began to give us a sense of peace.  I remember the day we moved into our house, the previous tenants had left a small chalk board in the garage on the wall by the door.  As we were moving things into the house Robin wrote on the chalk board, “We’re home.”  For the ten years we served in that appointment those words greeted us every time we walked into that house.  It was a constant reminder for me that where I am appointed is home as I engage the ministry God has given to us.

Now I fully understand that my experience is not the experience of all our clergy or our churches.  I fully understand that sometimes there are things that the Bishop and Cabinet aren’t aware of that provide good reason for “reconsideration” of an appointment that has been initially discerned.  What I would invite us to consider however as we move into these months that sometimes bring surprising phone calls, is that as imperfect as any system is, I believe God works in and through its imperfections.  And I absolutely promise you that as the Bishop and Cabinet consider the work of appointment making, we do so with prayer and a trust that God will lead all of us towards good and the building up of the kingdom that God is seeking to bring forward on earth even as it is in heaven.


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