Pastor Debbie's E-Spire - March 9, 2021

 As a pastor, I’ve worked hard to reach out to people who visit the church. If someone leaves their email or phone number on the pew pads, I try to welcome them and offer to meet and answer any questions they have. Most folks appreciate the offer and I’ve shared more than a few cups of coffee over the years. Generally, when folks visit who aren’t familiar with the UMC, one of the half-questions half statements they have is, “They say you move a lot…?”

And so I’d do my best to explain. Itinerancy is foreign to most folks. They recognize that pastors change over the years. But most churches operate with a “call system” which resembles the secular world where a church who is hiring posts their position and candidates who are looking to apply. That isn’t the case in the UMC. We have an “itinerant system” where clergy who are fully ordained have a “guaranteed appointment”, which includes full-time work, with housing, health care, and a pension. (In secular terms, we have tenure). And part of that guaranteed appointment is the pastor’s promise to the bishop and the annual conference to go where we are sent.

Technically, we are eligible to move every single year (July-June). Though moving every single year is much less common. However, there are still retired clergy at Annual Conference who remember the days they came to the annual conference with their belongings packed in a trailer, awaiting the bishop’s appointment (not knowing until the end of June where they would start July 1!). The stories told to me make it sound like many pastors moved every 2-3 years through the 70s and into the 80s. It wasn’t until the 90s that staying 5-7 years became somewhat normative, and the late 90s into the 2000s when pastors were known to stay 12-15 years (20+ is still extra rare). Despite the longer tenure at a given appointment, all United Methodist clergy know we can be moved any year.

Every year in the Fall clergy and churches are given the chance to share their wishes. They can each say “stay, go, or open” and list their reasons why. The pastor speaks for herself and the Staff Parish Relations Committee (SPRC) speaks on behalf of the church. SPRC is the HR committee of the church (so to speak), they work directly with the pastor month in and month out and also work with all staff, which is why they are given the authority to speak on behalf of the church.

The superintendent takes that information back to the bishop and the cabinet (the group of superintendents) for discernment for the coming year’s appointments. From there, there are multiple layers for what is needed. Bishop Woodie White told our polity class in seminary that appointments are made based on three things. First, what is best for the pastor, second, what is best for the church, and third, what is best for the conference—and not always in that order and all three won’t necessarily line up. That doesn’t mean the cabinet doesn’t care about pastors or churches, but it does mean that in the big picture, priorities may align in ways we don’t see from a single perspective.

This year, the cabinet knew there was a clear opening at Wenatchee First UMC where John Coleman Campbell would be retiring, and Sheila Marie would go on to serve as Assistant to Connectional Ministries for both the Inland and Seven Rivers districts. And they were tasked with identifying the pastor to step into that ministry. After more than a month of conversation, prayer, and discernment, the cabinet asked me to discern if that is a church where I could see myself serving well.

That’s the abbreviated version. I really knew very little about the church in Wenatchee, but I did know that I trust our Superintendent, Gregg Sealey, to attend to what is best for Moscow First, for me, and for my family. I also knew that Moscow FUMC is a healthy and vibrant church. I know that the pandemic year has been exceedingly hard, and yet despite that, we have continued to have active and relevant ministries. We have continued to serve others in a variety of ways. And I knew that looking ahead we needed to be asking “What do we want to do as a church, why do we want to do it, and how does it help us grow in faithfulness?” Those are good questions to be asked under any circumstances, but maybe even better when beginning a new season of ministry with a new pastor. I told Gregg I trusted him, and that I would be very happy to stay at Moscow for another 10 years.

Honestly, I love doing life and ministry here and with all of you. I have seen God do so much among us and through us. You inspire me and encourage me. You have loved my family well and we have loved going on adventures, exploring, and being part of such an intentional community. This news is hard for us too. We’re still processing it all and figuring out what needs to happen next. And, I know the cabinet cares about this church—about you—and will work just as hard to find the best pastor for the next chapter of ministry in Moscow.

Please know, I see the Holy Spirit at work in this process. And, I don’t think there’s ever a perfect year for a move (even retirement brings grief). Itinerancy isn’t a perfect system, but it does allow for collegiality, and development of more well-rounded ministries (since each pastor brings different gifts, they also help the church grow in unique ways, shaping the community to develop more holistically). And please know that I am still your pastor for the coming months. I’m here to pray with you, share God’s word with you, and do life together. If you need a listening ear, some biblical counsel, a shoulder to lean on, someone to pray for you, or just a friendly face, please don’t hesitate to reach out. 

Here's to new things!
Pastor Debbie

 

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