Sunday, June 18, 2006

You know you've been on vacation when...

I just had to look up my sign in and password for this blog! I hope that's the sign of a good vacation. We Methodists have a thing called Annual Conference every June. This was not the vacation part. It is a regional gathering of all the clergy and lay reps from every local church in our geographical area (called a "Conference"). After four days of Conference, then it was vacation time. I joined my family at the beach for four days. They had already arrived three days earlier.

This morning in worship, Paul Huebner, who retired this year from pastoral ministry, lifted a praise that I had been appointed to serve this Charge for another year. It was a blessing to be affirmed in that way. It was also a good reminder that United Methodists are really appointed to serve one year at a time. Every July, the clergy who are moving shift churches and/or retire, and the rest of us are reappointed to the same place. Although I get a voice in the process, and the local church gets a voice, the decisions are ultimately in the hands of the Bishop and District Superintendents.

It is an exercise in faith and trust to live in this way. When the folks from Portable Church Industries delivered the trailer for Jacob's Well, they asked how I decided to serve in this community. I replied that "I didn't decide." This is entirely true. My only part of the decision was that I discerned that it was time for me to seek a new place to serve, because I had done what God had called me to do at Summit. After that, I waited for the District superintendent to call me. He did call in the spring of 2003, and invited me to talk. We met, and he shared with me about Chesapeake City. Ray and I had 24 hours to pray and discuss, and then we called to say that we were excited to serve. (If we truly had not felt called, we could have said that and explained why, but it still would have been the Bishop's decision either way.) Then we met with the Staff Parish Relations Committee...and the rest, as they say, is history.

Many people comment that this system does not make sense, people both inside and outside the Methodist system. I respond by saying that all systems have their strengths and weaknesses, but that I truly believe in this. I say this because the District Superintendent and Bishop introduce a level of honesty and reality that only a third party can bring. In the call system that is used by most (all other?) Protestant Churches, it is something like a dating relationship at the interview. Everyone puts their best foot forward, and no one talks about the problems or weaknesses. Not really anyway. In our system, the District Superintendent and Bishop know the pastors, the churches, and the skeletons in the closets. They try to make matches that will work. Often, it succeeds. Sometimes it fails.

Right now, I feel that God has used our system to bring together this pastor with these churches for just such a time as this. I feel grateful to God to be serving here- some days I still find it hard to believe that God has called me to be a pastor here. I look forward to another year, and hopefully many more years. Thanks be to God.

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