Happy handoff accompanied by feelings of grief
After months of anticipation, we have had the “reveal” at Krum First United Methodist Church. The Rev. Jessica Wright has been appointed to serve as the next pastor, starting Jan. 1, immediately following my retirement. There is much rejoicing here.
Still, many outside (and inside) the United Methodist system wonder: How does this process of appointment work, and why this way?
We do not have pastoral search committees; no groups go out scouting potential pastors. No preachers are brought in to show their stuff and subject themselves to congregational votes of “yea” or “nay.”
Someone is simply appointed and the church moves on.
This strange system has been in place from the beginning of the development of the “methods” that eventually became the Methodist Church. It has significant advantages, as well as a few downsides.
First, all those who wish full clergy credentials as ordained elders within the United Methodist Church must agree to be itinerant. We agree to serve where we are sent by our bishop. It takes trust to enter into a connection like this. When trust informs our clergy relationships, we model for all what it means to be the church.
Second, church members operate out of the understanding that the health and ministry of their local church connection ultimately rests in their own hands. The itinerant pastor’s job consists of helping everyone be equipped to live up to the measure of Christ, to resist the subtle temptations of evil, to speak truth in love, and to supply one another with what is necessary in order to manifest grace both within and without the local church communities.
Quite a nice system, really.
Certainly, there are downsides. Clergy families often experience frequent moves, and the normality of today’s dual-career parents makes these moves more challenging. Occasionally, there will be a mismatch of church needs and pastoral gifts, but within a connectional system like this, such a situation can be effectively remedied.
Another downside, however, looms large: simple grief. I have been pastor for seven and a half years here. Not a lifetime for adults, but it is for the younger ones. I’ve watched them grow up, spent time with them, taught and shepherded them, and care deeply for them.
In addition, while people who have been longtime members know pastors come and go, others have known only me in that role. Many have trusted me with important parts of their lives and let me walk with them in times of aching sorrow and luminescent joy. We are connected in ministry, life and friendship.
Because I am retiring, friendships can remain, but no longer does my role as pastor inform the friendship. I am staying in the area, and hope to keep these connections alive in play, meals and conversation. I will have no say in what the church itself does and says. Those decisions rightly belong in the capable and gracious hands of the incoming pastor.
I keep reminding the children, “I have a full set of Harry Potter books in my possession. You are welcome to visit, pick up a book and read, or just sit around and talk about your life.”
Even so, we all have loss here. From that loss, the Krum Church gains much. The people from First United Methodist Church of Denton, where Jessica currently serves as an associate, also have loss. But, someone else will come into First Denton, and the people in the Krum Church will learn new ways to be Christian.
I jokingly tell people, “In a few weeks, you’ll say, ‘Christy who?’”
But they won’t — because in the tapestries of our lives, we have woven a beautiful pattern together. And now a new pattern is about to emerge, different from before yet inextricably linked to it.
Remember, I wove additional patterns on my predecessors’ work. By my moving on, and by others moving in, we add to the richness and interconnectedness of our faith.
THE REV. CHRISTY THOMAS is the pastor of First United Methodist Church in Krum. Reach her by calling 940-482-3482 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.