‘And so it begins’

The view from the Lake Huron Retreat Center during the 2018 Appointive Cabinet Retreat. ~photo courtesy of the Rev. Dr. Jerry DeVine

This Perspective on Hope encourages clergy and churches to “seek other seas.”

REV. DR. JEROME (Jerry) DEVINE
Interim Superintendent Lansing District

Lord, you have come to the lakeshore looking neither for wealthy nor wise ones; you only ask me to follow humbly. O Lord, with your eyes you have searched me, and while smiling have spoken my name; now my boat’s left on the shoreline behind me; by your side I will seek other seas. ~ see credit below*

I was about eight-years-old when I first gazed upon a young amateur artist’s rendition of the great painting “Christ of St. John of the Cross” by surrealist artist Salvador Dali. My older sister, now a professional artist with a studio, had painted her variation of that stirring work at the age of about 13. It hung on the hallway going up the stairs of our home at that time. As a very spiritually oriented and impressionable young boy I was captivated by the painting. My sister’s version did not have the Christ on the cross, since she had not yet mastered drawing the human form at that young age. However, in her rendition the cross still loomed high in the cloudy sky overlooking the Sea of Galilee, and the empty boat on the shoreline entered into my inner consciousness.

I had shared once before in a blog that this visual image became a central part of my initial call to ministry when I was 13-years-old. It has now once again become a poignant and important reminder and guide for my life and calling. I find myself on a new shoreline as I transition from eight years as the Director of Connectional Ministries, and now begin a new appointment back on the appointive cabinet as a District Superintendent. According to the Book of Discipline I am shifting from being the “steward of the vision” of the annual conference to now being the “chief missional strategist” of the district.  look forward to some engaging conversations with the clergy, laity and churches of the emerging District #5 on what they envision a “chief missional strategist” to be as we shape a way of ministry and direction together.

As I prepared to walk out of our home to drive to this year’s appointive cabinet retreat my wife looked at me with an understanding face and said, “And so it begins!”  We have been down this road before when I served for five years as the District Superintendent of the Albion District. As I sat in the second floor meeting room at our Lake Huron Retreat Center examining the listings of local churches and the names of pastors to be considered for possible changes of appointments I had a distinct empathy for what it may mean for them, their relationships, their local churches and the ministry potentials for God’s vision as new shorelines come into focus. Some of them may say, “And so it begins once again!” when they receive a phone call from one of the district superintendents in the weeks and months ahead. To fulfill God’s call and vision in our connectional way of life requires openness to discover new shorelines. It also calls upon us to leave boats behind us if “by your side I will seek other seas.”

Just as the clergy are invited to “seek other seas”, so too are laity in each of our local churches. If your congregation is going to be going through a change of pastoral appointments or a change of staffing, how open will you be to leave your boats of preference and comfort in order to follow Christ’s call to a new approach to transforming your community? How will you help make the transition of leaders as smooth and life-giving as possible? While you may not have to itinerate physically like your pastors you can “seek other seas” in your understanding of your call to discipleship in your church and community.

By the time you read this blog you will already have seen the further announcement of changes of conference staff, with some continuing and other new positions being opened for new ministries to emerge. All staff portfolios are being refocused on the new Michigan Conference vision that deepens our commitment to Christ-Centered Mission and Ministry, Bold and Effective Leaders, and Vibrant Congregations. New staff will be leaving some boats behind them and following the Holy Spirit’s guidance to new shorelines and new seas of transformative ministry with our new nine district leadership teams and our local churches. Staff people that are continuing are also being realigned in their focus in this same direction.

While I will no longer be in that particular ministry team, I now have both the opportunity and the responsibility to partner with them and my district leaders to develop the missional strategy to equip and guide the 88 local churches I will be superintending in the new District #5, which includes most of my churches in the current Lansing District, the 1/5 of the Heartland District churches that I will be blessed to work with, and even a few new churches from the current Crossroads District, Grand Rapids, Ann Arbor, and Albion districts.

The hymn, “Lord, You Have Come to the Lakeshore”, evokes our sense of call from God. If we sit with those words and images, and let the tune play out in our heads, we will also find that it is a clear reminder that to be in relationship with God through Jesus Christ leads us into a pathway of discipleship. Discipleship moves us out from simply being cared for by grace and into a giving of ourselves in that grace in the world.

I invite and encourage you, in a season of change, to meditate on the words of the hymn to hear and see where God might be calling you to leave your boats on the shoreline behind you and by God’s side to seek other seas. Amen.

*Hymn lyrics from  “Tu’ Has Venido a la Orilla,” #344 United Methodist Hymnal; image “Christ of St. John of the Cross,” Salvador Dali, 1951, Creative Commons

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