Sunday, April 10, 2016

Practicing Itineracy

An open letter to the pastors of the Cheaha District:

I thank my God every time I mention you in my prayers. I’m thankful for all of you every time I pray, and it’s always a prayer full of joy. I’m glad because of the way you have been my partners in the ministry of the gospel from the time you first believed it until now. I’m sure about this: the one who started a good work in you will stay with you to complete the job by the day of Christ Jesus.  Philippians 1:3-6

On Thursday of our first round of appointments, I shared a devotional with the Cabinet based on Genesis 12 in which I reflected on how the itineracy was amazingly countercultural.  I suspect many of you have read and can quote the articles that say otherwise.  There are many who believe that in our highly mobile culture that staying in one place and committing ourselves to a particular community is more necessary and countercultural than pastors moving from one place to another.  And I do agree that we need more people to commit to communities.  We need more congregations—clergy and lay alike—to fall in love with their communities to the point that their hearts break enough to commit themselves to working to transform those communities.   But what I think makes itineracy very countercultural is the willingness to go or stay at someone else’s command!

In Genesis 12, we read about Abram setting out from his home and traveling by stages to the land God promised.  And as you may remember, it was a long, strange trip that took him not only to Palestine but even to Egypt.  Yet through it all, even when the trip seemed to take him further away from the promise, he kept going where God sent him because, as the letter to the Hebrews reminds us, he believed in a promise-keeping God.  Itineracy requires faith like Abram’s, the faith to go God only knows where, for God only knows how long, to do God only knows what! 

In other words, itineracy is a spiritual discipline!  What’s more, it is a discipline that all Christians, not just Methodist preachers, are called to practice.  Itineracy is moving by stages with God to the edge of what we know and understand . . . then taking the next step.  Taking the next step even when we don’t know exactly where we are going or why. Taking the next step even when we have doubts.  But taking the next step because we believe God has called us to do so!

Of course, I really didn’t expect the Bishop and Cabinet to ask me to practice what I preached so quickly, but they did!

Many of you have probably already read through the list of appointments. If so, you know that I will be moving this June to serve as the senior pastor of Aldersgate UMC in Huntsville and Clinton Hubbard will be your next District Superintendent.    My heart has always been with the local church and I look forward to being a pastor and preacher to a local congregation again.   I also look forward to living in the same house with my husband.  (I hear marriages work best that way!)  But this is a very bittersweet moment for me because I have grown to love the pastors and churches of the Cheaha District!

It has been an honor to be your superintendent!  I have been so blessed to work with pastors who love their congregations, their communities and their God like the pastors of the Cheaha District!  In our rapidly changing culture and with the economic and cultural challenges surrounding you, the pastors of the Cheaha District are putting all of their heart, their minds, their souls and their strengths into finding ways of transforming churches and communities.  And while I realize you still have a long way to go, you have begun to make headway.  Over the last few years, Cheaha has been one of the few Districts to grow—much of that thanks to the phenomenal Spirit-driven growth of The Gathering Place.  But last year, throughout the District in both small and large congregations, we saw an increase in professions of faith and baptisms!!  And God’s not through working in and through you yet!

At the risk of sounding like an Academy award winner, I do have a number of people to thank for their support of the work of the Cheaha District.  First, I want to thank the creative and passionate members of the District Operational Team, who even as I write this letter are working to launch eight new teams throughout the district!  I have been blessed with two exceptional superintendency chairs—first Sam Huffstuttler and then Don Neal, both of whom could be granted the title, “The Wise.”  Teresa Harris will be taking on that role beginning in June and I know that she will be a similar blessing to Clinton! Which reminds me how blessed I have been by our District Lay Leaders!  Leigh Murphy and Teresa Harris both did outstanding jobs of working to improve the connection between the district and the laity of the local congregations and now, Mike Galloway, is off to a great start in continuing their work!  I also want to thank the members of the District Conference Team, under the very able leadership of Belinda Wilson.  They are currently working on wonderful plans for the preconference meeting and the District picnic!  I am also thankful for the work of our District Pastoral Assistant, Abi Carlisle-Wilke. She does such an admirable job of leading the McClellan Cluster as well as hosting our Oxford area pastor’s coffee.  And I would be remiss if I didn’t thank Tom Smith for all the hard work and love he put into his many years as the District Pastoral Assistant. Thanks to Rick Patsios for hosting the Birmingham area pastors coffee.  Thanks to the wonderful men and woman who serve on the District Committee on Ministry, the District Trustees, and the District Board of Church Location and Building.  And, of course, I want to thank our wonderful and amazing Administrative Assistant, Sonia Gallimore, who makes me look good by loving and serving the pastors and churches of the Cheaha District with excellence!

Finally, I want to share how excited I am about your new District Superintendent.  I’ve had the privilege of working with Clinton on the Bishop’s Operational Team over the last year and I have come to know what a capable and caring leader he is!  You will be blessed by his leadership! I want to invite all of you to join us at the Preconference Meeting to be held at Pell City First on Sunday, April 24th at 4 pm to allow me to say thank you and goodbye in person and for you to meet Clinton.  We will fellowship together, sing together, pray together, hear God’s word together and celebrate communion together!  In addition, the Superintendency Committee will be setting up some times for Clinton to be present throughout the District so people can meet and greet him.

Also, I was originally scheduled to take a renewal leave this summer.  Since this will not be possible with a new appointment, the Bishop has granted me the opportunity to take the leave this spring. So I will be on leave April 27th-May 30th and June 12th-25th.  During those times, I have asked Bob Alford and Clinton Hubbard to be on call for me.  If you need a DS during that period, please call Sonia and she’ll get in touch with one of them to assist you.

With the exception of those times when you didn’t read your emails, or were late turning in paperwork or didn’t turn in your benchmarks on time, it has been a blessing to work with you!  Okay –so I’m sort of joking!   Please for Clinton and Sonia’s sake, take care of the business of the church!

Seriously, I have been tremendously blessed by you and by your churches!  My prayers remain with you and I ask your prayers for me!

God Bless!

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