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Time to say ‘hello,‘ ‘goodbye‘ as pastors come and go


In The United Methodist Church, summer is the time for many churches to
say farewell to one pastor and welcome to the next.
A UMNS photo illustration by Ronny Perry.

A UMNS Report
By Kathy L. Gilbert*
June 29, 2007      

Maybe you loved her.

Maybe you thought one more Sunday with him in the pulpit and you would lose your religion.
Then suddenly, one hot summer day, it all changes. A decision is made and it's out with the old and in with the new.

In The United Methodist Church, after annual (regional) conferences have conducted their meetings, it's customary for many congregations to say goodbye to their current pastor and hello to their next.

A little thing called itinerancy

The United Methodist Church has a unique tradition of assigning clergy to churches. Ordained elders must be willing to go where they are sent. The itinerancy system means every pastor has a church and every church has a pastor. In some cases, larger churches have more than one pastor and pastors of smaller congregations may serve two or more churches. Some pastors serve in positions outside the local church such as in church agencies, institutions and specialized ministries.

John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church, began the itinerant system in England. Wesley developed circuits for his assistants to travel, each of which included a large number of congregations. Preachers visited these appointments about once a month and changed circuits from year to year, depending on the circumstances.

"We have found by long and consistent experience that a frequent exchange of preachers is best," Wesley wrote. "This preacher has one talent, that another; no one whom I ever yet knew has all the talents which are needful for beginning, continuing, and perfecting the work of grace in a whole congregation."

“We have found by long and consistent experience that a frequent exchange of preachers is best.”
–John Wesley, founder of Methodism

For a pastor, moving to a new community and starting a new appointment means facing more than a few challenges. The journey may be guided by the hand of God, but the road can be bumpy and strewn with obstacles.

Bishop Peter D. Weaver recently made 85 appointments in his New England Annual (regional) Conference. The process, he says, was cloaked in prayer.

Pastors should remember that "God is with you," says Weaver. "Stay open to the wonderful surprises God will have in store in this new appointment."

Weaver posts a statement on a board in the room where appointments are being discussed that says: "Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit in consultation with the local church and pastor, we will send the person who can do 'it' to the place where 'it' needs done."

"'It' is the mission of Jesus Christ in that community," he said

Sage advice

The Rev. Mary Ann Moman, an executive with the United Methodist agency that oversees ordained ministers, has a checklist of what to do when moving to a new appointment.

"Get the family settled--things like schools, doctors, etc.," she says. "Get to know the congregation. Spend time visiting; meet regularly with the lay leader and other key leaders. Get to know the community. Who are the leaders? Other pastors in town? Institutions?"

Three Arkansas pastors with a combined 144 years of experience offer some additional sage advice.

"Before you move, get your attitude straight," says the Rev. John P. Miles, retired pastor in Hot Springs, Ark., in his 60th year of ministry. "Be grateful to God and the bishop that you have an opportunity to serve. Pray for and preach enthusiasm until you have it."

“Stay open to the wonderful surprises God will have in store in this new appointment.”
–Bishop Peter D. Weaver

Miles suggests the first week include these chores: "Help your family settle in; visit the sick and recently bereaved; call or visit all shut-ins; contact key leaders (and visit the United Methodist Women president first!)," he says.

The Rev. Tom Weir, now living in Little Rock, served local churches, districts and the conference for more than 37 years before retiring in 2005. He advises to "make your first priority getting to know your congregation. Discover your leaders, both those who may have been elected and those who are not so obvious. Love all of your people."

"One of the ministries I enjoyed when I served in smaller towns was to go door to door in the downtown businesses," says the Rev. David B. Wilson, who retired in Hot Springs after 47 years of ministry.

"I identified myself as the new United Methodist pastor and invited folks to church. This was done in the mornings. In the afternoons and evenings I visited in homes. Word spread quickly that the new Methodist pastor was out visiting."

Other bits of advice from the trio: "Don't neglect your family;" "make a 100 percent commitment to your new congregation;" and "never say anything negative about any previous pastors."

"In all that you do, stay very close to God, who will lead you through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit," Weir says. "Your mission is not to point out the 'flaws' of individuals or society but to make disciples for Jesus Christ. Remember that you are assigned to your appointment 'to serve and not to be served.'"

*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn. Contributing to this story was Jane Dennis, editor of Arkansas United Methodist .

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org .

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