This month’s Perspectives on Hope has counsel for pastors and churches involved in transition.
REV. DR. JEROME DEVINE
Director of Connectional Ministries, DAC
“If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. … This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” John 15:10, 12, NRSV
Images of boxes and moving vans fill my thoughts this day. Not for me personally at the moment, but as I pray for and think about all of the United Methodist clergy who have just said “Goodbye” to one congregation or charge, and are trying to prepare themselves, along with their families, to fully enter into relationship with a new community of faith. The last two weeks of June every year are a reminder to me of the emotional and relational nature of our itinerant appointive way of being the Church.
For some this appointment transition may feel like a natural time of change for both themselves and the congregation(s) they were serving. It may be that they came to a place of stable growth that now calls for change for both of them. While this makes the changes a bit easier, it still requires separation with appropriate boundaries, all while being willing to see the gift of new relationships and ministry potentials in a new place.
For others it may be more difficult. Perhaps the change of appointments was unexpected and thus the saying goodbye may be more difficult, for clergy and their families. While we know that God can and will help bring new life in the midst of it, it can still be emotionally challenging.
Still for others, the change may leave behind some unfinished conflicted conversations. This is true in life in general, not just in the Church appointment process. How do we look for the best in one another in the midst of such changes?
I can still remember a conversation I had with a gracious couple in Kerala, India years ago. I was travelling for five weeks through South India (the States of Kerala and Tamil Nadu) staying with families several days in each location. This particular couple was newly retired and had a very evident love and respect for one another. As we came to briefly know one another I learned that their marriage had been an arranged marriage, which had been the cultural custom where they grew up, whether you were Christian or Hindu. They happened to be Christian. As we talked they shared that they did not intend to continue that custom for either of their daughters, yet also offered that there were some positive things about this way of entering into relationship. They suggested that in their custom each member of the couple entered into the marriage hoping for and looking for something minimal as a blessing, and that they were then grateful for anything more than that. Their observation of how the U.S. seemed to approach relationships was that each member comes with the highest expectations and is disappointed in and/or not willing to settle for anything less than that. It gave me considerable food for thought.
“Looking for the best in each other means seeing the God-gift of each other, not simply looking for my expectations of the other.”
Having served several local churches, worked as a Ministry Consultant with local churches and clergy, and in the supervisory/coaching role of a district superintendent, I know the challenges and gifts that can arise in the appointive system. If we want the “perfect pastor/staff person” or the “perfect appointment” we may be those persons the couple from India was referring to. We come in with such high expectations that we may miss the smaller blessings that form solid long-term relationships in love and mutual respect. On the other hand, if we come in asking God to help us see the smaller blessings, perhaps it provides a more genuine and mutually humble beginning. On that beginning foundation we can build a solid future. “Looking for the best in each other” means seeing the God-gift of each other, not simply looking for my expectations of the other.
“Love” in the Western world has too often been confused with attractional affection and self-gratifying approaches to relationships. In the Gospel of John passage noted above love goes much deeper to commitment and action. The Wesley Study Bible notes on John 14-15 [Abindgon Press, p. 1310] offer this interpretation:
“Love is such an easy word to say and such a hard thing to do. Ultimately love shows itself not by declarations of affection but by the service we render to the one we profess to love, especially service that inconveniences us or that calls for sacrifice.”
My prayer for of you in this time of appointment or job transition is that you will be received as the gifted servant of Christ, and that you will be given eyes to see the gift of the new setting for ministry that you are now moving to. May your family be embraced as baptized and loved members of the Body of Christ. May you as congregations see the gift and love of the new ones coming into your midst. May this become the new foundation of a growing relationship in fruitful ministry.