This is the second installment of a yearlong series that will follow
newly appointed United Methodist clergy as they begin their ministry.
1:00 P.M. EST July 19, 2010
Rev. Sara Baron, pastor of Park Terrace United Methodist Church, Apalachin, N.Y.
Photo courtesy Sara Baron.
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“I expected it to be really difficult,” said the Rev. Sara Baron, “and it was much worse than I thought it would be!”
After four years as pastor of Morris (N.Y.) United Methodist Church,
Baron is moving to her second pastoral appointment – and living through
her first transition.
The United Methodist Church uses an itinerant system to appoint its
pastors to their churches. Clergy appointments are made annually by the
bishop, who sets all the pastoral appointments in the conference.
Pastors agree to serve where called and to accept and abide by the
appointments. This system of assigning clergy dates back to John Wesley,
when clergy traveled widely throughout the church on circuits.
That means each June, many pastors throughout the connection find
themselves packing up and moving on to a new place in their ministry.
For Baron, that means saying goodbye to a congregation she considers family.
“I cried for the first three weeks after I found out I was moving,” she
said. “The hardest thing before I left was calling the children forward
for the last children’s time. I don’t have children, and the children of
the church are the closest I have.”
For the Rev. Shalom Agtarap, her second appointment meant not only leaving a church family, but literally leaving family.
The Rev. Shalom R. Agtarap of Ellensburg (Wash.) First United Methodist Church. Photo
courtesy Shalom Agtarap.
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“Because my appointment was so close to my home church, my sister and a
good friend were sharing the parsonage with me. Now I am in a
four-bedroom parsonage with only myself to come home to.”
Agtarap had been serving the past two years as a licensed local pastor
at two United Methodist churches in Seattle. After being commissioned
last month as a provisional member of the Pacific Northwest Annual
(regional) Conference, she was appointed to Ellensburg First United
Methodist Church, two hours from Seattle.
“Living with family … provided levity at times when church work began to
consume me and reminded me that though I am pastor to many people, to
them I could still be the silly little sister,” she said.
Agtarap said leaving wasn’t only hard on her, but also on her congregation.
One of the churches she served expected her to succeed its older senior
pastor. Upon learning that Agtarap was appointed elsewhere, the
congregation was upset at the decision.
Social media changes itinerancy
Pastors leaving for a new appointment are encouraged to be careful about
the relationships they maintain with former congregants, so as not to
interfere with the ministry of the next pastor. That practice has a new
dimension thanks to social media.
“One of the jobs of a pastor is to love your people. When you’re
reappointed, you don’t have to stop loving them, but to disconnect from
them,” Baron said. “Facebook makes all of this intriguing. Not long ago,
when you were gone, you were gone.
“Within my peer groups, we’ve had some debate about whether you should
cut people off (from Facebook). I opted not to. If someone from a
previous church wants to look at what I post on my page, they can know
I’m alive and well without having an invasion of the space that is
appropriately occupied by a pastor.”
‘I am on a journey’
Sad goodbyes aside, both pastors look forward to what lies ahead.
“I am so lucky. I am being moved from a great church to another great church,” Baron said.
The Rev. Sara Baron talks about her experiences as a young
person during a workshop at Exploration 2009, an event sponsored by the
United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry for young people
who feel a call to ordained ministry. A UMNS photo by Kathy Gilbert.
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And it will be quite a change. Baron’s first appointment was a historic,
rural church in a town with less than 2,000 people. Now she’s pastor at
Park Terrace United Methodist Church in Apalachin, N.Y., a larger,
suburban church that uses video clips and PowerPoint in its services.
“The bishop who appointed me to my first church was thinking of me, and
my gifts, and made a really good match,” Baron said. “And the bishop, in
appointing me here, also made a really good match. I will be using very
different skill sets.”
In addition to growing up with a United Methodist pastor father, Agtarap
cites her participation in The Upper Room’s Academy for Spiritual
Formation as preparing her for the life of an itinerant pastor. She said
the program equipped her with the tools and perspective necessary for
dealing with all the transitions she’s experienced, be it adjusting to
full-time work after being a student, moving or figuring out what she
needed as a person to be fully present as a pastor.
“I am much more aware of my emotions and how gracefully I am held by God
throughout all these changes,” she said. “I have been able to temper
the sadness of leaving my family and the trappings of a big city by
simply reminding myself that I am on a journey.”
*Butler is editor of young adult content for United Methodist Communications in Nashville, Tenn.
News media contact: Joey Butler, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.