Saturday, April 27, 2013

The Care and Keeping of Your Pastor

A Charge to the Congregations on the Ordination of my Friends

 Last Sunday, I had the honor of being asked to share a charge to the congregations at the ordination service of two of my dear friends, J. and T.  I first met both of these women at seminary, where I was finishing my M.Div. the same year they started theirs.  Our friendships formed the next year, when we were in an internship program at the same church -- the church where, two years later, their ordination service was held.  

What a joy it was to celebrate with them! Their ministries will surely be a blessing to the congregations they serve, to the United Church of Christ, and to the world.  Here is the charge I offered to their two congregations:

First Church and South Church, you have discerned God’s call to your community to be pastored by J. and by T., and you have answered. It was a bold decision and a good decision. May God richly bless your ministries together. 

Congregations, whether you are welcoming J. as your new pastor, or continuing with T. as your Associate Pastor, my first charge to you is this: Honor her ministry. 

She loves your church. She has studied and trained and worked in preparation to pastor a church – your church – well. She prays for you, and she dreams about God’s vision for you, and when she meets me for lunch on her day off, we talk about how each of us can best minister to our congregation – how she can best minister to you. So honor her ministry by trusting her. Trust her when she wants to try something new, something that pushes you out of your comfort zone, something that really isn’t your thing at all, maybe even something that doesn’t go very well. And remember that if she doesn’t occasionally try something that doesn’t go well, she probably should be more adventurous with you. 

Honor her ministry by telling her the truth when you disagree with her, and by respecting her when she disagrees with you. 

Honor her ministry by remembering that a great deal of her ministry will be invisible to you, and that some of the very best pastoring she does, you will never hear about because of the vow of confidentiality which she took as part of her ordination vows, just a few minutes ago. 

And as a young woman in ministry, I ask you this one practical thing: honor her ministry by supporting whatever decisions she makes about how to manage her own safety. Young women ministers, especially, think carefully about how and when we are alone in the church building, how we handle one-on-one meetings, and what we would do if we felt unsafe. She has considered those questions, I am sure. Perhaps you will sometimes think she is being too cautious. More likely, you will sometimes wish she would be more cautious. But she will make her own decisions about how to do her work well and safely, and what she needs is your trust and your support. Honor her ministry by supporting her decisions, whatever they may be. 

My second charge to you is this: Honor her humanity. 

Honor her humanity by respecting her time off. That time keeps her life more balanced; it means that she has time to nurture her friendships and relationships, to spend with her family, to dance or do yoga, to rest. When she has time to do those things, she is a better pastor and a healthier person. 

Honor her humanity by giving her room to grow and to change. Know that she will not always be exactly the same as the day you first met her, or the day your congregation called her, or today. She will change over time, because she is human. By the grace of God, we all will. 

Not only will she change, but her life might change. Yours might, as well. She will walk with members of your congregation through the beginnings and ends of relationships; through engagements and marriages and divorces; through rites of passage and graduations; through the births of children and grandchildren; through illnesses and the deaths of loved ones; through job transitions and retirements. Perhaps you will walk with her through some of those things in her own life, as well. No matter what changes in her life, she will be the pastor you have called. 

And finally, congregations, pray for her.  I charge you to pray for her, and for her ministry. If you just remember to do that, everything else will be fine. 

May God bless your lives together. Amen.

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