If there is one thing guaranteed in the life of a United Methodist pastor is that one day we will leave. Truth be told it does not matter what job you have, what passion you follow, what life giving work you do, it will come to an end someday. But I guess for those of us that promise to be “itinerant,” leaving becomes part and parcel of our life and work.
The fact that leaving is part of our work does not make it easier. We promise what at times are conflicting values, we promise to be present, to minister to people in times of joy and sorrow, to walk with a congregation and lead them in their life together, then we also promise to be willing to go to the next place and do it again. To go to the next place and start over again.
Starting over is difficult. The rhythms of communal life take time to master, the culture of a place can only be learned with time, leading takes trust and trust takes living alongside for a while.
I have learned in my many comings and goings that we can be somewhere a long time and not be present. Years do not guarantee presence, intimacy, or trust. Being present is a spiritual discipline for me, where I trust God to be where I most need to be for as long as I need to be there and that somehow this being with becomes transformational for all those involved.
As I have begun the process of transition I am thankful for being present. The relationships that I have built in my congregation and my community have transformed me, have made me a better pastor. The gift of time in this community has opened my eyes about the importance of relationships to the curing of souls.
Leaving has also strengthened my thoughts on the importance of pastoral tenure. Like I have already said, I am aware that longer tenure does not guarantee presence. But I do believe that the longer the pastoral tenure, the more effective the work of worship, teaching, curing of souls, and institutional teamwork becomes. All of these congregational practices necessitate long term leadership and relationship development.
I am sorry for some of the rambling but I promise to continue to reflect out loud about this process. Today I am reminded of a song that a mentor and friend gave me the last time I was leaving. The last verse says:
And the three greatest gifts of moving on
Are forgiveness, hope and the great beyond
After that perhaps peace can come
Peace will come
(from Mary Chapin Carpenter, Leaving Song)
As I continue to prepare to leave, may forgiveness, hope, and life eternal be my guide. May peace abound!
(to be continued . . .)