“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” Ecclesiastes 3:1
‘I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and come and go and find pastures.” -Jesus
Well, we’ve certainly seen our share of changes this past year. As a congregation we figured out how to be the church during a pandemic, which was no small feat. Along the way we learned that community can happen without in-person connections. We’ve held worship, celebrated milestones and mourned losses the best we could, even as we longed to mark sacred time more fully. And then, just when you thought things would settle down, I announced my retirement which set off other changes in pastoral leadership at Central.
The good news, through it all, is that Central Church has remained strong and has so much to look forward to. That goes for your pastoral leadership too. As you have heard by now, Pastor Chris has been appointed by Bishop Bard as your next Lead Pastor. This is very encouraging as Chris has both a deep love for our congregation and the leadership skills to move us solidly into the future. Pastor Linda Stephan has been appointed as our new Associate Pastor. Linda is a deeply caring pastor and a bright light of enthusiasm. Plus, she is a lot younger than Chris and I! Central will be blessed by her gifts and graces.
As for me, I’m leaning into this time of change with great hope. My decision to retire wasn’t easy. And while I could have continued to serve, that would have meant shelving the stirrings of my heart for something different. I’m not 100% certain with that “something different” is, but I trust that God has been in this decision and will be with me through this transition.
Part of this transition is a chance to look back with gratitude upon my years of serving the church. I was ordained a Deacon in 1987, while in seminary at Methodist Theological School. I served two churches then and did a semester in Clinical Pastoral Education at The Central Ohio Psychiatric Hospital. I was ordained Elder in 1990 while serving in my first appointment at Covenant Community UMC in Baldwin, MI. From there I went on to serve at Charlevoix UMC, Greensky Hill Indian UMC, Cadillac UMC and, lastly, here at Central Church. For 34 years the church and its people have been my home. It’s where the majority of my time and energy have been spent. I have loved it, occasionally hated it, and found great joy and purpose in its mission. Mostly, I wouldn’t change a thing. Everything that happened belonged.
But now, like the rest of you who retired after 30 – 40 years at one job, I need to figure out what is next. Serving Christ will definitely continue to be at the heart of my journey. But right now, I need to decide what I must let go of so God’s stirring has room to grow. Writer William Bridges says, “transition is not just a nice way to say change. It is the inner process through which people come to terms with a change, as they let go of the way things used to be and reorient themselves to the way things are now.”
We all experience changes and some of them rank high on life’s list of ups and downs. Those changes set off the work of transition, the process of coming to terms with the change so that something new may develop. Bridges writes, “change is the wall and transition is the gate in that wall, it’s there for you to go through it… this is the path to the next phase of your life.” As Christ followers, let’s remember what Jesus said: ‘I AM the gate.” That means he is the one who gives access to abundant life with God. This tells you and me that change is best handled by staying close to Jesus.
In closing, I’m mindful of our Lenten journey to the celebration of Easter. Now is the time to ask “what must I let go of?”
in order to make fresh space for the Easter promise: resurrection life can happen, again, through Jesus. I’m counting on that, how about you?
In the months ahead we’ll say our goodbyes and our hellos. And we’ll thank God that Spirit is stirring new life among us.
Counting on that with you,