So, on Friday morning, many of you received an email sharing the news that as of this week, I have been reappointed to serve as the Senior Pastor at Hilliard UMC starting October 1.
Pastoral change is normal in the UMC… many of you have seen lots of pastors come and go - and our leadership team has been preparing for such a transition – expecting that it would come at some point in the future. But the timing of this transition has caught us all a bit by surprise. My 2-month leave that was scheduled long before we knew about this transition was scheduled to begin on August 1st which has just further expedited the timeline of how it will all take place.
I’ll share a bit more in my sermon today about the back story of how this came to pass and why I said yes to the call.
But I want to begin by acknowledging the collective emotion that is in the room -
Anytime there is change - particularly with a pastoral change – there are emotions that come with it - whether its sadness or frustration – or perhaps joy – that I’m finally gone – regardless – change is difficult for all of us. So whatever you are feeling – it’s OK. You don’t need to try and make yourself feel something you aren’t. Someone I talked to earlier this week said to me – I know that as a Christian I should be feeling happy for you, but right now, I’m mad about how this impacts me. So, I’’m sorry. I appreciated the honesty.
Amy will share some things in a moment about her hopes for this transition and what you can expect. But I will say that today as we gather for worship – I hope you will hear two things.
- My deep gratitude for the ways that this church has uniquely shaped and formed me and my family
- And more importantly – a renewed reminder of the incredibly important call this church will continue to follow in the days ahead shaping the lives of people in this community but also speaking a crucial and needed voice into a world desperately in need of hope. You represent that hope in every way imaginable. And it has been a privilege to journey with you for these 6 years.
But we still have 2 Sundays to be together. And I’m planning to delight in every moment of them.
About a year ago, I was asked to fill out my annual pastor profile. It’s a form we fill out each year to communicate with the conference and the District Superintendent about how things are going in our appointment and whether we anticipate a need for things to change in the near future.
The first question was always the same.
Do you anticipate requesting a move this year?
No. I replied.
Many of the next questions were ones I had seen before –
Where have you seen the Spirit move in your ministry?
What are your plans for the church in the coming year?
But then came a question that I hadn’t seen before.
What is your ideal appointment and where are you feeling called to serve in the future?
I knew the answer to the first part of the question right away.
Where is your ideal appointment?
It’s where I am! It’s Summit. It’s this place, which, excuse me if I’m bias is one of the coolest churches in the West Ohio conference – and not just cool because we play Harry Potter and Star Wars theme music on a Sunday morning –
Or have an awesome Freedom School or a rainbow painted bathtub or super fun outdoor worship on the 4th of July weekend.
but in all the ways that really matter when it comes to what it means to be a church.
Six and a half years ago, on the Sunday before my introduction at Summit, I came to visit this special place. I knew I was coming to be the new pastor of this church but you didn’t know it yet. And I was on maternity leave from my other appointment so I had a Sunday off and I wanted the chance to see what this Summit place was all about.
I was, of course, warmly greeted by Naomi and many others.
The setup was informal and relaxed.
The music was, of course, amazing.
Cindy Turvy gave an epic reading of Scripture that day in an angel winged costume.
But the part that really got me –
The moment in the service when I knew that I was going to fall in love with this place and be changed forever came
when the Sermon began, two pilgrim were sitting on the front row – Nathan Proctor and Robert Van DePetti.
And as Grayson preached his sermon they would shout out. Allelujah! Praise the Lord. Nearly always at appropriate times. But in ways that in the church where I was serving at the time would have made people very very uncomfortable.
And each time they shouted out – I looked around the room to see how people were reacting. And I realized that no one seemed to mind. No one seemed to do anything when they spoke except smile.
These precious souls – Now saints in heaven – were a welcome part of the community – had been for years I later learned.
All were welcome. It wasn’t just words on a page, it was the lived reality then and it is the lived reality now.
It’s the reason why bruised and battered spirits find their home in this place, when they have often felt unwelcome in the church.
It’s the reason why members of the LGBTQ community find this to be a place of safety.
It’s the reason why Tony and Bobby can play their harmonicas and kids can come and share their artwork.
It’s the reason why people who do not claim Christianity as their primary faith expression can be a part of this community.
Because all are welcome. As they are. With their wounds and their beautiful giftedness. All are welcome and all can be a part of what God is doing in this place.
When I came to be your pastor, I can confess to you – that I thought I knew some things about what that meant. I thought I had some things to bring to the table and offer you – and that was true to some degree – but what I learned – probably too slowly.
Was that I was also welcome. As I was. Imperfect. Flawed. A pastor who made plenty of mistakes. Even caused you some pain along the way.
I was welcome in this place. With who I was. I could be who I really was. Accepted fully.
And this foundation of acceptance – is what allowed all of us – to be able to truly grow together - in our faith and as a community. We are safe and we are free – to grow where the Spirit leads us.
So, it was an easy question to answer. I’m serving in my ideal appointment.
But where am I called?
At the time I was answering that second question, I had been sensing this nagging feeling in the background of my prayers – that quite frankly I had tried not to pay much attention to.
The feeling was hard to put words to – but I knew it was a call to teach and preach and share the Gospel – the Gospel that had become more fully ingrained in my heart and spirit during my years at Summit – to a people who might not already be where this church was.
Here – I can step into the pulpit each week and share my heart and spirit without much fear that you are going to take offense to the words I speak – about inclusion or about justice – or even about white privilege –
But I sensed there were a lot of places where that wouldn’t be the case – where such a message wasn’t already woven into the DNA of a community. Places that weren’t as diverse as this place and places that were not sure they were ready to REALLY be open to all people.
And so I reluctantly wrote down the honest answer to that question -
I think I’m being called to the suburbs – to preach the good news and to help a more moderate church find its ability to do the work of the Gospel in the context where God has placed them.
We’ve been talking these past few months about the Enneagram.
This amazing tool that we’ve been given that expresses the longings that we all have as humans. The need to help, the need to be happy, the need to be an individual, the need to achieve, and as we look at today’s number – Number 9 – the need to avoid.
Now, most of us tend to have a particular place on the Enneagram that becomes our default place. A place that drives our behavior more often than not.
I’m a type 3 – an achiever. I’m often driven by the deep desire in the pit of my stomach to accomplish my goals and to have everyone tell me how great I looked while doing it. But you’ll also notice that there are lines that connect the various numbers to each other.
One of the cool things that those who built this also knew is that some of these types are very connected to the others.
As a 3, I’m connected to the 6 and the 9. And they are related to how I work at my best and at my worst.
At my best, I take on some of the great qualities of a six – I become more collaborative and willing to work as a team – to share the end goals with others and to be content to be a part of something bigger than me.
But at my worst, I take on some of the not so great qualities of a nine.
I avoid what I know I should be doing. I see it right in front of me but it feels too daunting so I just pretend that it isn’t there. I know what I must do but I do nothing.
The 9 is the peacemaker – their desire is to not rock the boat. Change is hard. Avoidance feels easier. 9’s have incredible skill in bringing a sense of steadiness and consistency and calm to a moment.
But change is not their preferred place.
Our hero today is Jonah – who was very likely a 9.
I’ll let Sharon tell us the story.
Jonah was a peace loving follower of God – the last thing in the world he wanted to do was to go to Ninevah and preach the Gospel.
He had imagined all these terrible things about the people there. He had heard the rumors. But if you keep reading – when he finally decided to follow the call – he found that the Ninevites were actually incredibly receptive to the message. His fears were unfounded.
It wasn’t about him. And whether he was ready. It was about the Ninevites and the fact that they were ready to hear a word from the Lord.
Now, let me be clear that I am not equating my move to Hilliard UMC to Ninevah. I am in no way suggesting that they are heathens in the suburbs just waiting to hear a word from God.
But I do relate to what Jonah had to learn – that it wasn’t about him. Or whether he was ready to go. Whether he was comfortable with the journey or not.
What mattered was that he was being sent.
Was he ready to go with a willing heart?
All of us here wrestle with that very question all the time.
And my move to the suburbs to join God’s people in Hilliard on their own journey does not change the unique call that God has on this place.
To be the church – to share the Gospel – to welcome ALL people.
To connect the ideals of justice
Saying yes to the call often involves a cost – and takes us out of our comfort zone.
And I need to be fully honest with you about how that looked for me. Because it might be easy to think that the big bad conference office came and snatched your pastor out of her with only a weeks notice.
That could be a story you could tell.
But I think that would avoid the larger truth of what really happened.
In May, I learned that Hilliard’s pastor was leaving. He had been appointed a District Superintendent late in the year when the current DS had responded to a call to return to VA.
And the pit in my stomach deepened and that call I had felt earlier in the year rose in my chest. I had just seen my DS. I had just told her – I don’t want to move.
But something told me I needed to pray.
I cried most of the night. I met with my spiritual director and when I saw my DS the next day at a lunch that had already been on the schedule. I told her that I wanted her to consider me.
Then I heard nothing for a while.
In June, I had a further conversation about it with my DS – but was still given an indication that I was staying at Summit. Probably for a couple of years. So we began making plans for the coming future.
Until a call 2 weeks ago…
Would I go?
You need to know that I could have said no.
I could have stayed here in my ideal appointment – in this church where I love all of you so much and where I am comfortable. Where we still have work to do together –
It’s terrible timing. It’s too fast. It doesn’t give a chance to properly say goodbye.
But I think it’s the call.
And while it broke my heart, I knew that I needed to say yes.
I hope you will understand.
You may not like the way it is happening. And trust me – I don’t either.
But I hope you will see God’s hand in it.
Because my deepest belief is that if I’m being called to Hilliard then someone else is being called here to Summit.
Someone God has uniquely prepared for this time and season and someone who you will accept the way you have accepted me and the other pastors who have come before me.
Someone who will walk with you and lead you so that together you will continue to lead into that call as a church.
I won’t be that person in the same way I’ve been. I won’t be here to do baptisms and weddings and funerals – but I will – with all my heart – continue to pray for this church and the extraordinary people and the extraordinary call that God has for you.
I will pray for you and your next pastor, who, though they have not been named - will likely begin here within the next two months.
As we walk through the days of transition ahead of both of us – may we hear anew the call and do our best to not avoid it.