On the Horizon: July 26, 2020

Good morning,

There are many councils and committees that form the operations of the Susquehanna UMC Annual Conference, and for the past few years, I have served on the Bishop’s Retreat Council. The goal of this council is to plan and develop a retreat for clergy and their spouses around a speaker and topic selected by our Bishop. We never know what might happen in the course of the event as we schedule it, and so we need to be prepared for any possible hiccup we might experience when the days of the retreat actually arrive. As a result we have many meetings leading up to the retreat. As the one on the team in charge of worship planning, I was in contact with the tech team at conference regularly to make sure that we had all that we would need in place. There were others on the council that were in charge of gathering all information on the 300-some people who would be in attendance and then setting up rooms and dining arrangements for those who would be in attendance. It is kind of like setting up a small conference with a detailed schedule of events, meals, free time, and talks. There’s a lot that could go wrong, but we had a great team that worked so well together in putting this event on each year.

Whenever we go through a pastoral change there is a lot of planning that goes into it. Whether it be on the part of the pastors putting together all the necessary information, church councils preparing a profile for their congregations, or the Bishop and Superintendents doing the hard work of finding matches that they believe will continue to build the kingdom of God in all communities going through transition, but there is only so much that can be done prior to the move.

Eventually the day comes when a minister steps foot inside of the church and begins their work. At this point it is on that individual and the congregation to figure things out. There is that time of getting to know each other. You all don’t know me and my tendencies yet and I do not know yours. There is a learning curve for all of us. I believe that this is a time of great uncertainty, but it can also be a time of great promise, too. It affords all of us the opportunity to evaluate ourselves and our focus. Ministers get a fresh start and the joy of meeting new people. Churches are afforded a moment of pause to see how they feel about their ministry, considering what has worked really well and what may need to be changed.

With any change, there are some things that we can anticipate. For Methodists, this is not our first time going through pastoral change. We understand the process and procedures and can find comfort there, but we also recognize the uncertainty of meeting a new minister and continuing ministry at the same time.

We have all been going through a time of uncertainty with COVID-19. For a short while there it seemed like we were going in the right direction, but in recent weeks this has seemed to be flipped on its head. We have not dealt with a situation quite like this or as fluid as it is. When dealing with the pandemic, none of us know what is the best thing to do next. We have no idea what tomorrow will bring or what we will need to be doing in a week in order to keep each other safe. The uncertainty of this pandemic has created a lot of fear for people, and there are many questions that simply do not have an answer beyond “we will wait and see.”

Sometimes in the changes that we experience in life, whether it be planning for an event and not everything goes just right, the uncertainty of pastoral change, or the ongoing pandemic, there are many situations that bring anxiety and confusion. It is in these moments when we need to find peace, respite, or answers. The last one is often the most difficult to find, but as Christians we believe that God offers the others quite well for us.

The author of our passage is painting for us a picture about the way things can be. The picture is of a beloved community that is living their lives in service of one another. This requires a lot of hard work and planning, while also listening to the Holy Spirit’s guiding. We cannot rely on just ourselves. I cannot do the work that needs to be done in this wonderful place on my own, and neither can you. We need each other. We should be prepared to lend a helping hand to all those who are in need. That is what makes ministry beautiful and grace-filled. Relying on God’s guidance and direction will drive us into a future that we can only dream of now, but thinking we can do it on our own with no need for a good team can bring us hardships and challenges that we may not be prepared for.

The work begins in community, resides in community, and will come to fruition through community. I was not able to put together all the worship for the Bishop’s Retreat on my own. We will not defeat this virus without each and every one of us doing our very best to look out for our neighbor. And any transition is only as successful as the community that is there to live through that season of life. The more stable a community, the better the transition will be. The less pastor-centered and more team-focused, the better the transition will be.

We cannot know all of what will happen down the road, but we can be assured that Jesus has gone on before us. He is already down the road waiting for our arrival. He has seen the path that we will take and is calling us to join him around the bend.

We need to trust in God more today than maybe some of us ever have. We know that this virus is not going away like we all hoped. We know that there are challenges with getting to know a new minister, especially in times such as these. We know there is fear in change, period. What we can be assured of is that God is there to guide our path. If we do our part to look out for our fellow neighbor, do the work that God has called us to do, and are vigilant in the planning that is needed, God will see us through to the other side. Fear not, for God is with us. We can take hope in this promise and go forward from this place to be God’s hands and feet so that others may experience the tangible Jesus that resides in our hearts. Amen.