Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Pastoral Letter to Saint John's

Lent 2009

To "the people called Methodists" who are Saint John’s United Methodist Church,

"Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ."

For eight years it has been my distinct honor to serve as your pastoral leader. It is a time that is a benchmark in my life both as an individual and as a pastor. In far more ways than I can tell you, this particular congregation, at the time in my life in which the opportunity to serve it came was such a gift.

And now I address you as one whose tenure as your pastor will be coming to an end. The Bishop and his cabinet are projecting me to serve in a different pastoral setting in June. And with that change will come a new era of leadership to guide you into the next phase of your continued growth.

In February, our District Superintendant sought me out and asked if I would be open to a pastoral change this year. It was not something I had considered. I told him that I felt I had several more years of good ministry at Saint John’s and that we were on the cusp of a significant breakthrough in our strategic plans for growth. He indicated a need for my gifts in a different setting, one in which I might be able to render service during a time of difficulty they were enduring.

And there has been my quandary since February. I love this place so much. As you all know, it’s not that you go to Saint John’s, or become a part of it…Saint John’s is almost viral in that it gets into you. And you all are in my blood! But after eight years of service, to say I had not been here long enough really didn’t hold water, even if I thought it. Certain factors beyond all of us that are part of the connection required me give the request its due.

And there is my issue. I had to come to the realization that the likelihood of me ever indicating that I didn’t want to be here anymore was nonexistent. Neither did I expect the day to come that Saint John’s would say the same of me.

As an Elder in The United Methodist Church, among the things I vow is that I will itinerate. This is to say that I will make myself available to serve where needed. I left it with the DS that while I did not feel I was finished at Saint John’s, if the Bishop and Cabinet were of one mind that I should take on this new appointment, I would be open to what that was indicating and would embrace the challenge set in front of me. I also asked that any ambivalence on their part that this was not the right thing would be interpreted as a sign that I needed to stay.

What I am told is that there was immediate unanimity on this. They all felt this was in the best interest of the connectional church. And I have received that as a leading nudge of the Spirit to take on a new challenge in a new place.

Say what you will about the itinerancy, and there’s much that could be said, but it only works if we who are vowed to do it are open to the prospect of change. And in this last month I’ve had to remind myself that eight years ago about this time of year I was asked to be open to the prospect of coming to a church on the corner of Peabody and Bellevue. I was, and man, am I ever thankful for that decision.

So I’ve lived with this prospect for over a month. And while it was only official a few days ago, I’ve been grieving the prospect of leaving you long before you‘ve had the chance to hear it was happening. I know that there have been whispers throughout the church. I’ve heard and overheard…but I was not free to comment or acknowledge them until today. And while I am not yet free to say much about where I’m projected to serve, I will address any questions any of you have about this process. And if you’ve heard of version of it that is different than what I’ve just shared, I’m here to tell ya, it just ain’t so.

Your Church leaders are in consultation with the DS about the next person who will be appointed to serve you. They are doing the faithful work to profile the character of the one who will be appointed. Please know they are doing a great job and I have every confidence a new pastoral leader will be wonderful for you. I especially want to note the work of the SPRC and its chair, Mac McWhirter. They are representing the best interests of Saint John’s very, very well.

Between now and June, I am still your pastor and I will serve you as I have. A period of transition will be necessary and you all will be guided through that along the way, and I pledge to do my part to make it a smooth one.

One last personal observation – I’ve been in much distress about this over the past month. I’ve come to realize what much of that pain was about. I’ve come to recognize the familiarity of that pain with other chapters of my life, when, as a preacher’s kid, and now as a pastor myself, that comes with the reality that you are going to tell people that you love goodbye. The complicating factor is my knowing I’m going to be saying it, but not yet having permission to talk about it.

Now we can talk. We can share. Together.

I give thanks to God for who you are as a congregation. For what you’ve meant to me, and to my family, I thank you.

Grace and Peace.


Marcia said...

The second I saw the title of this post my heart dropped. I guess I knew this was coming since Dave said "Johnny looks stressed." I hate to be so selfish, but I feel like we just "found" you (didn't know you had been lost, did you:) Itinerancy has its good parts (you only HAVE to have a minister that isn't a good fit for a year-and sometimes it's a looong year) but it really bites when your minister is such a good fit with the congregation and community. I'm just gonna have to feel selfish for a while yet:)

Kevin Olsen said...

Although my presence at SJ has been non-existent in recent months, I still feel an obligation to speak.

As a paid section leader, there is often a disconnect between the job and the church and week in and week out. It's just a grind - focusing more on what's coming next than what's being said. Coming to St. John's as a Catholic and having spent 6 years as a paid episcopalian, the Methodist service was one that confused and frustrated me. Where was the sit/stand/kneel/recite/repeat of the past?

Two months after I began at SJ, you came along. Slowly, I became more of a member than an employee. Your personality, openness and approachability are what flipped the switch for me. Maybe it was your youth, maybe your Star Trek references and Will Riker beard, but something about your sermons connected with me and illustrated christianity with a new style that I was able to embrace and actually look forward to.

Free from the constraints of a full-time church gig, I find myself on a spiritual journey through various religions and methodologies. Having been to over a dozen different churches in my time away, I have yet to find a leader that stimulates the mind and spirit more than you. I look forward to popping in at your new church home and refilling my spiritual glass.

As someone with a history of wavering beliefs and agnostic tendencies, I was not expecting to solidify my faith while going through the motions on a sunday morning, but you struck a chord that still resonates in my spiritual life and I thank you.