Pastor Jerry Being Reappointed
Below is a copy of the letter Pastor Jerry sent to First UMC members and constituents on February 13.
Dear First UMC Family:
Part of being a family is walking together through the different seasons of life, and when the family is a United Methodist Church, one of those seasons is the changing of a pastoral appointment. I write to let you know I am being appointed to the Lake Street United Methodist Church in Eau Claire, beginning July 1.
For the past couple of years I have expressed to Bishop Jung and the Cabinet my willingness either to remain here in Wausau or to be moved to new challenges in a new context. This year, through their prayer and discernment, they have chosen to send me to a new ministry. Having prayed over the appointment and met with the Staff-Parish Relations Committee at Lake Street, I have accepted.
It will be a grief for me, leaving the people I have come to love over the past twelve (yes, twelve) years, but as I look at the solid core of leaders, the experienced staff team, and the ministries that you as a church already run without any help from me, I am confident that you will continue to grow in ministry and faith. The new pastor will bring new gifts and different energies, opening up new opportunities for you.
That pastor is yet to be named. Please be in prayer for District Superintendent Forrest Wells, working with our own Staff-Parish Relations Committee, and for Bishop Jung and the Cabinet as they discern a new leader for this corner of Christ’s Kingdom. Over the next four and a half months, we will talk more about ways to make this season of change a fruitful time. And during that time, if you have questions about the process, your Staff-Parish Relations Committee are the ones to ask. This committee consists of Mark Johnson (Chair), Doris Carlson, Robyn DeVos, Jason Fandry, Timm Fischer, Bonnie Goertz, Mark Milne and Mike Zahn. For now let me just say – as I’m sure I will again – thank you for all the ways you have shaped me as a minister.
Reflecting on Itineracy
From their beginning, Methodists have had an unusual system for connecting pastors and congregation, called the itineracy. Pastors are not members of churches but rather of the Conference, and they are sent to churches as the bishop of that conference sees fit. This system is more like the Roman Catholic system than any other Protestant tradition, and it has its advantages and its disadvantages for a congregation:
- Sometimes a pastor you love is moved away.
- Sometimes a pastor you don’t love isn’t.
- While input from the congregation is a part of the process, the ultimate decision as to who will lead you is made by someone outside the congregation. This can feel authoritarian.
As most of you know, I (Jerry) started out in a congregational system, with the Baptists, so I’ve seen both sides. In the “call” system, I’ve seen churches dwindle to a fraction of their former size during long interim times (who wants to join a church without a leader?). I’ve also seen churches decline under the fading leadership of long-time pastors who are burned out and ineffective, coasting to retirement, but still loved enough that no one will tell them it’s time to go. And I’ve seen pastors who went to what they thought was a normal business meeting and came home to tell their family he’d just lost his job.
- Smooth transition. The church does not have to go through an interim time of doing a pastoral search. Your current pastor will leave at the end of June, and the new pastor will be in the pulpit in July.
- The regular rotation of pastoral leadership provides new ideas and perspectives.
- With the job security of the itineracy system, a pastor can make hard decisions if necessary without being afraid of being fired.
- Because it comes from the bishop and cabinet, the choice of pastor will be based on matching gifts to ministry, rather than on personality or other superficial matters. (Believe me, this one is more important than most realize.)
Yes, there are disadvantages to the itineracy system, but for my money, it’s still better for everyone.