As a life-long United Methodist, itineracy has been a normal thing my entire life. The first pastor I remember is Quitman McCrory, who pastored First UMC Muskogee when I was a kid. After Quitman came Phil Ware, who was followed by Connell Ghormley. Diana Crawford came next. Then Rusty Williams, Jack Kemper, and finally Mike Smith, who began his tenure in June of this year. If you are not familiar with itineracy, the short definition is this: a system of pastoral selection whereby a Bishop appoints clergy to a particular church, rather than the church selecting their own pastor. Using my home church as the example, none of the people listed above chose to come to Muskogee, Oklahoma. And the church didn’t choose to hire them. To those with an episcopal style church government, this makes all the sense in the world. To those outside this style, it is the strangest thing ever created. But as I said way back in sentence one: it’s been the norm my entire life.
When I answered the call into United Methodist ministry, the appointment system took on even more importance in my life. I am now in my 15th year under appointment, in my fourth church. Each time I’ve moved from one church appointment to another, I have written essentially the same letter informing the church of my departure. In that letter it was expected (by the Bishop) I would graciously release the current church from relating to me as pastor, meaning they should embrace the next person, not me during times of pastoral need. This is important to do in order to ensure the new pastor is allowed to take over the role of pastor. As a UM pastor this is part of the gig…but I have to confess each time I’ve written that farewell letter I’ve cringed a little. Not because I do not want to let go, or think I should not let go of the previous church, but because in an ideal world (and I can get caught up wanting to live a utopian existence) I should be trusted to set healthy boundaries for myself, my new church, and the new pastor at the previous church. The fact that all exiting UM pastors include this same language in their letters tells you this: not every pastor can be trusted to set healthy boundaries. And thus the need for the wording in the letter.
Why in the world is this on my mind? Well, you can never count on my brain to function like everyone else’s, but in this case there is a reason. Today I officiated the memorial service for the matriarch of FUMC Ada, OK. When I stepped to the pulpit to begin the service, I immediately noticed the David Daniel family sitting in the sanctuary. David was my predecessor in Ada…and he was very much loved by the congregation. I’m sure some people out there might scold David for attending the service…for hanging onto relationships in a previous church. But I am not one of them…and truth be known I don’t want to even hang out with “them.” You see David and I have a great relationship. It is crystal clear why the people loved him so much. And why shouldn’t a former pastor show up to celebrate the life of a former parishioner who impacted their life, especially when I know how much it meant to the family that he made time to pay his respects.
Being a pastor is tough. Leaving a church and people you love is gut wrenching, for both the pastor and the people. I am thankful for the relationship I have with David Daniel, and other previous pastors I’ve befriended.
At this point someone should ask, “Brian, why did you write this blog post, and why can’t you sleep?” Honestly I have no idea. Sometimes my brain gets focused on something and I just need to process…and writing is one of the ways I process best. Maybe that’s why God called me into pastoral ministry.
Anyway, thanks for listening. And if your church has a new pastor, give him/her a chance to be your next favorite pastor, while still keeping your previous pastor in your heart, and your prayers. NOW I can go to sleep!