We are, as many of you know, in the midst of appointment season. This is the time of year when a number of our pastors are preparing to leave congregations and move to new ones and when some of our churches are preparing to say good bye to pastors and receive new ones. Probably about 15% of our churches experience pastoral change in any given year.
As a part of this process, there is what we call an introductory meeting. In the introductory meeting, the church SPRC gathers and the District Superintendent brings the new pastor and “introduces” him/her as the new pastor to these church representatives. It is called an introductory meeting because the expectation is that the Bishop has made the appointment and now we are introducing the pastor to the church and the church to the pastor. This is an introduction as opposed to an interview.
I have done eleven introductory meetings so far this year and they have been rich times. I suppose it is a little awkward. Our system of “arranged marriage” can be a challenge at times! But I am amazed at how often there is almost an immediate spark in that initial meeting. A connection, a sense of joy and hope and new life. The pastor sees, for the first time, into the heart of the congregation he/she is coming to serve. The SPRC members likewise get an indication of who this new clergy person is, along with a glimpse into the future of his/her new ministry. It is an honor and a humbling experience for me to watch it unfold in that hour or so together. It really has a wonderfully holy feel to it all.
Oh there are moments during our time together that bring about challenges to be sure. Someone asks a tough question and we wait to see how it is handled. Is there grace and an openness to hear one another? So often as I watch this process unfold, I experience a sense of awe at what God is doing. I also experience —most often— a fresh sense of hope for that church, for that pastor, and even for the church as a whole.
There is plenty to be skeptical about these days, both inside and outside the church. There are reasons to doubt and to wonder what will become of us down the road. As we struggle together around the needs of families and spouses, with fewer and fewer clergy embracing a complete sense of itinerancy, we wonder about whether the whole way we do appointment making will be able to survive or even whether it should.
But even with all this to consider, I’ve experienced eleven nights the past few weeks where I have watched as a new pastor and congregation have begun a dance together and it’s been great!