Tag Archives: transition

Back in the Saddle Again

Part of being in ordained pastoral ministry in the United Methodist Church is that every so often you move. In fact, at times, I’ve quipped with people that “I move for a living.”

My absence on this blog of late is largely due to that very fact: The Bishop appointed me to be pastor of a new congregation. Actually, since this church was started in the 1830s, new probably isn’t the right word… how about a different congregation. As of July 1, 2016, I’m now the pastor of the First United Methodist Church of Carmichaels, PA.

So, I’ve been asked dozens of times, WHY do we United Methodist pastors move so often? After all, there are some churches that have pastors for 20 or 30 years.

The official answer is two-fold. One, because the Bishop decides to move us. And hopefully, he (and his advisors that we call the Cabinet), has actually heard God say it was time for that pastor to move before they make such a move.

But the deeper answer is because of our kind of church organizational system. Most churches have some sort of hiring process where they hire, or call, a person to become their pastor. Oftentimes, that process is referred to as a call system. Roman Catholic priests, Salvation Army officers, and United Methodist pastors are appointed by their bishop or superior officer. Similar to the United States military, we are informed where, and when, we will go elsewhere. That’s the way we work in the United Methodist Church. And we call that the “itinerant system” or “itinerancy”.

Itinerancy (also correctly spelled as itineracy), is the system where pastors are moved from place to place wherever they are needed next. In the old days (like REALLY LONG AGO) we itinerated by horseback. One week we would be at church A in town A and serve Holy Communion and baptize anyone ready for Baptism and encourage and help the lay people of that congregation as much as we could… because we probably wouldn’t see them for another 13 weeks. (That’s the origin of so many of our United Methodist congregations having a tradition of only serving Holy Communion once a quarter… about every 13 weeks). After that week in town A, we then moved to town B for church B… and we literally itinerated around a circuit of about 13 towns and churches. (That’s also the origin of the term “circuit riders”).

Now-a-days, instead of using horses, we use horsepower (in our cars). And many of us still have more than one congregation that we’re pastoring at the same time. Church A has an 8:00 worship service, Church B worships at 9:30, and then worship begins at 11:00 at Church C. Some, like me in this current appointment, only have a single town and single congregation, but have more than one worship service (8:30 and 11:00 here in Carmichaels if you want to visit!).

Officially, each pastor in our system is appointed for one year, although we are usually reappointed at least once or twice. Sometimes a pastor will stay in the same place for several years before a new appointment. It all depends on the needs of the church and the churches of the rest of the conference.

Francis Asbury statue- Library of Congress, LC-DIG-highsm-09622

Bishop Francis Asbury

In early Methodist history, Francis Asbury, one of our first two American bishops, was a stickler for short one or two year appointments. He believed being in one place for too long would compromise the pastor’s ability to speak truth to sin. The thinking was that if you’re living in and among the people of the area for too long, then you won’t just be the pastor but would start to become friends and be comfortable with the lifestyle of living there. And if someone become really good friends, then the pastor might become hesitant to address concerns and/or sins for fear of upsetting a friend or one of their relatives. And a pastor who didn’t identify sin they were aware of and then try to help people to repent and walk away from sin was unacceptable and considered (in today’s vernacular) unfaithful, ineffective, and unfruitful.

 

Another often heard explanation regarding the need to have pastors move occasionally uses the imagery of going to school as a child. You may have a great teacher in first grade that you like and who is great at helping you learn. But by your senior year you really should have progressed beyond that teacher from the past. As a pastor, I have gifts and strengths and skills which I hope are useful in ministering with the parishioners in my congregation. But if I have any pastoral or administrative or teaching skills at all, then you ought to be growing beyond what I can offer. And since I’m not perfect, you will eventually need pastoral leadership from someone who possesses other pastoral skills and gifts that I don’t have. Eventually, there will need to be a pastoral change.

In our system, pastoral changes usually take effect on July 1 of whatever year. However, when there is a missional need, a pastor could be moved at any point in the year. It seldom happens, although of my six appointments, only three started on July 1. The others were May 1, January 1, and September 1. Again, our system is driven by the needs and realities in the local churches.

In each appointment, the Cabinet and the Bishop discern where they believe the Lord is leading each pastor and each church, but then they call the individual pastor and inform them of what they believe is God’s will. They pastor learns about the new congregation and the setting (community, parsonage and living arrangements, and such). The pastor then gets a chance to pray as well and can ask for a reconsideration, although there’s never a guarantee that it will change. The next step is a member of the Cabinet (the District Superintendent for that area) goes with the pastor to meet representatives of the new congregation (known as the Pastor-Parish Relations Committee). Unless there is some huge red flag that goes up,then the District Superintendent will confirm that the appointment will happen. A red flag might be a situation like a handicapped pastor who is being considered for an appointment that has a very accessible church building, but then she or he discovers the parsonage has a multitude of steps. That appointment just isn’t going to work.

Ultimately, it is the Bishop that will “set the appointment”, although he or she has been in on the whole process up to that point, so we pretty much know before they publicly read the appointments.

They tell me that in the “old days” the two steps in the middle of this process, where the pastor gets to pray and then the meeting with the new church, didn’t usually happen. Rather, the pastor (always male at that point in our history) went off to Annual Conference sessions each June, and while there would learn IF they (and their family) would be moving and where to. The wives would wait near the telephone to await a phone call from their husbands to discover if they needed to start packing for a move before July 1. (I REALLY like the system the way it works now a lot better!)

I’ve heard pros and cons about the call system and about the itinerant system. I LIKE the fact that with our itinerant system, no church is ever without a pastor. My predecessor stopped being the pastor here in Carmichaels on June 30, and on July 1, I became their new pastor. Many call system churches, I’m told, go months and sometimes even years with no pastor while they’re trying to decide who to hire. Likewise, after leaving my old congregation on June 30, I didn’t become unemployed just because I left that church. That next day, July 1, I started as pastor of this congregation. There are many pastors, I understand, who are in the call system, who go months and sometimes years before they are “called” by another church.

One downside of our itinerant system is of course that we move every so often. Also, the pastor get to decide where they will live and work and the congregation doesn’t get to decide who they will hire as their pastor. Neither does the congregation get to fire the pastor when he or she preaches something they don’t like or offends someone, nor does the pastor get to just decide they want a different appointment when things get uncomfortable. Instead, the congregation and the pastor have to look to Scripture to see how Jesus talked about resolving conflict and building reconciliation as much as possible, because even if there will be an appointment change, it won’t be immediate.

I’ve only ever been in this United Methodist system, so I’d appreciate hearing how things go in the call system… or if there are some other ways that churches and pastors are brought together.

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Francis Asbury statue- Library of Congress, LC-DIG-highsm-09622 . Downloaded from http://www.thearda.com/timeline/persons/person_79.asp
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Changing of the Seasons… Again

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven…”    —Ecclesiastes 3:1 (ESV)

As I sit here writing my last pastoral letter, it’s the day before my 54th birthday. I don’t feel any older (or wiser or mature) than I did yesterday and I’m pretty sure tomorrow will feel much the same as today.

There’s nothing like a birthday to force you to reexamine how you spend your time and reassess what’s really important to you. And this year, on top of the birthday, there’s Joshua’s graduation from 6th grade and, next week, David will graduate from high school, and of course the moving trucks will be here in just a few weeks as well.

Last week, May 18th, was Gay’s and my 25th wedding anniversary. As I looked back at the wedding pictures recently, I was amazed at how much I had changed since that day in May of 1991. I was thinner and my hair was thicker (and all the same color). I don’t remember gaining weight and where did all that gray come from? And the hairs that didn’t turn gray, decided to turn loose! Sometimes it just feels like there’s TOO MUCH CHANGE!

I remember as a kid I couldn’t wait until I would be able to shave… I wish I had waited.

As a kid I could hardly wait until I would be able to get away from my parents and make my own decisions and have my own money and “pay my own way” through life… I sometimes wish I were still living at home with someone else figuring out how to pay all the bills… and just telling me what the right decisions for my life are supposed to be.

Time doesn’t stand still. And neither do we. Time passes, and we change.

Five years ago, July 1, 2011, I began serving as the pastor of the Clarks Mills United Methodist Church. Time hasn’t stood still. And we’ve changed. My family has changed, I’ve changed, our congregation has changed. We’re not the same people that we were back then.

And we will continue changing… because in God’s order of things anything that is alive and growing, changes. It’s never the same after growing as it was beforehand.

God has a plan for this congregation, and it’s a good plan. For now, He’s revealed the first page of the next chapter… a new parsonage and a new pastor. If you’ll allow Him to, God will continue to work in you and through you during this next season, to effect His will and His plan… and He’ll work on developing your spiritual life as you walk with Him.

As we walk through these last few days together before I’m moved to Carmichaels, I wonder if you’ll help me think and pray and reflect on our time together. What has God done in us as a congregation during these past five years? How have we been changed? What’s different? What ministries for the kingdom of God have we been able to do together? How have you allowed God to change you during these past five years? Are there areas of your life you need to turn over to him to allow him to work in you and through you as Pastor Adam comes?

[This is my final newsletter article as pastor of the Clarks Mills United Methodist Church. Published in The Flame, June 2016.]

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Expectations for a Change

In January 2002, my family traveled cross-country. We deliberately stopped to see sites like the St. Louis Arch, the Painted Desert, the Grand Canyon, and Disneyland. However, we also had several unplanned stops as well. Three different times our van broke down and we were stuck wherever we happened to be until the nearest garage could get us up and running again. And then, after finally arriving home three weeks later, we had to replace the transmission.

We had really thought we were ready for that trip. But we didn’t understand the differences of how to care for our van when you’re traveling 7000 miles instead of the 20 & 30 mile trips we were used to. We operated our van as if we were traveling at home, but we were pushing it hard, with six people, and LOTS of luggage, at expressway speeds. That poor van couldn’t keep up with our expectations… because we hadn’t properly prepared our own expectations for the change in the way we were traveling with our van.

As I’ve been thinking and praying over our upcoming pastoral transition here, I keep finding myself coming back to that trip… and our relationship with that van. You could say that our congregation, as well as both the Mix family and the Stump family, are all embarking on transitional “trips.” And ministry together is different in times of transition, just like our use of our van was different during that long trip… and it took its toll. And living as a family in the midst of packing or unpacking boxes is SO different than normal family life.  We need to be intentional during a transition, and try to have clear expectations.

Our Presbyterian cousins are the ones who probably have the best understanding of how to handle these times of transition in the life of a church. Any time there is a major transition in the church, they expect that there will be an interim pastor in place to lead the congregation through the ‘in-between’ time. That transition might be something major like the death of the previous pastor, a scandal among the leadership, some sort of trauma that affects the church, or even something positive like having a long-term pastor (eight years or more). All of those are indicators that there ought to be a time of having an interim pastor.

The idea of an interim guiding a congregation through a time of transition has been compared to the idea of going from one gear to another in your car. Perhaps going from first to second gear isn’t a big deal, but to get from first gear to fourth gear requires some interim steps. If you don’t transition from one to the other correctly, you might just find that you’re grinding your gears or doing damage to your car in some way. Many of our cars today will do that transition automatically… however, churches, and pastors, don’t.

We’ve had five years together, but prior to that Pastor Jay was here for eleven years. We didn’t have a transitional interim pastor, although I did try to address some of the transitional issues with our church council each month in that first year and also with the whole congregation through my sermons from the pulpit. But to this day, there are many who think first of how we did things when Jay was here or wish that Jay was back for this event or that.

And now, come July 1, another new pastor will come to walk together in ministry with this congregation. And I, like Jay did before I came, need to reiterate again, that in our United Methodist system, the departing pastor does not come back to do pastoral ministry. We love you dearly, and always will. However, come July, I will no longer be your pastor; Adam Stump will be. And pastoral ethics, as well as conference policy, say that I don’t get to come back to even visit friends. For in the long run, if I met you because I was your pastor, then our relationship is primarily a professional pastoral relationship. And that ends when I stop being your pastor. For me to come back to do something pastoral would be like President Bush telling President Obama that he’ll be commanding troops in Afghanistan since he was president when the war started.

The most important relationships when we’re talking about the church are with Jesus and the others in the pews; the women and men you call your brothers and sisters in Christ. You get to spend a lifetime with them. We pastors are just temps. We’re to help lead for just a while, and then God and the Bishop send us to the next ministry posting with a new congregation. I get worried when I hear about this person left when Pastor Someone left or they decided to come back after Pastor Someone Else arrived. That just shows that those particular people never really became a part of the church, but rather were more like a pastor’s fan club, or perhaps a pastor’s foe club. Folks, going to worship, or Bible study, or any other activity in the church shouldn’t be based on who the pastor is, but rather on whether or not God called you to be a part of this church, this congregation.

And if you DO want to be friends with a departing pastor, then after they have moved, YOU need to be the one to reach out to them at their new home, not for something pastoral, but just because you want to remain friends with them as a family. That changes the relationship from pastoral to personal. You can seek us out… but we cannot come back.

To do so would be a huge undermining of Pastor Adam’s ministry.

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This was my pastor’s letter in the Clarks Mills United Methodist Church’s monthly newsletter “The Flame.”

To read it as it appeared there, click on this link: N2016-05

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Times and Seasons

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.”  – Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 (NIV)

This past couple of years, and especially this past month, has seemed like we, the Mix family, were shooting a video to be used to illustrate this Scripture passage. It seems like our lives have been a blur of changes and traveling and trying to keep up.

It started last April when we got our first chance to start having visits with our granddaughter Elizabeth in foster care 300 miles from here in Berks County, PA. Then the next week Gay’s Mom, Grandma Sherry died… three days before Holy Week. She had lived with us for five years and became an integral part of our family. She had been so excited for the chance to eventually meet and hold her great-granddaughter.

Throughout that time of grieving and mourning, we were also beginning to understand that there was a chance that Elizabeth might be able to come live with us through a foster care program called “kinship care” and with that in mind we continued monthly, then weekly, visits in Reading, PA. In the Fall we realized we would need to hire a lawyer in Berks County to help us navigate the legal roller coaster involved with trying to get Elizabeth, but how on earth could we afford such a thing? That week we received a reimbursement for $1,000 we had been overcharged in co-pays and such with our insurance! Then, with the lawyer’s help, in November, we went to court and were granted physical custody following a transition period of a few weeks. Finally, on December 19th, Elizabeth “came home” to her new home.

Meanwhile, the caseworker who had done our home study that spring noticed that Joshua had an empty bunk in his room. Thus it was that this year, on Easter weekend, we became foster parents to David, a teen who needed a home and a family. Last month the McKean County Court granted us permanent guardianship. As Gay worded it: “We are now parents of a bouncing baby 17 year old!”

Which brings me to this past month of October. My Dad was lifeflighted to Hamot Hospital from where he was living in Potter County at the  tail end of September with an aortic dissection. While we initially thought he wouldn’t make it through the night, he did. In fact, over the next two weeks he  got better and I got to see him and talk with him and just spend time with him 10 of those 13 days. I hadn’t had a chance to live with my Dad since I was 11 years old, so this was such a gift. AND my children got to know Grandpa Don better and he just soaked in their loving. The night before he was to be discharged, he died quietly and peacefully in his sleep. And amidst the grief, we celebrated that he was ready for death and we had been given the gift of time during that last couple of weeks.

As we step into November, we anticipate one more major change: the adoption of Elizabeth as our daughter is probably going to be around Thanksgiving or early December. We appreciate your continued prayers.

In the middle of all these ups and downs, the mourning and the dancing, the anxieties and the expectations, the weeping and the laughing, we have sensed God’s presence with us through it all. Every time we unexpectedly  needed something extra, God has provided through His people: a check in a card, a reservation with extra “points” someone had with a hotel, a baby blanket (or quilt!), extra diapers, and even food!

In the book of Romans, Paul describes how we as Christians live out this Old Testament passage from Ecclesiastes: “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.(Romans 12:15, NIV)

As we continue on in this journey of life, we thank God for YOU, our friends and our family, for walking with us, rejoicing with us, and mourning with us. Praise God! And Thank You!

(This originally appeared in the monthly newsletter of the Clarks Mills United Methodist Church).

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