My service as Rector in the Interim at the Church of the Good Shepherd is drawing to a close. I will begin a new interim assignment at Calvary Church in Ashland, Kentucky on Shrove Tuesday. You are preparing to welcome your new spiritual leader, The Rev. Brian Cole. The community to which I am going has just said farewell to The Rev. Jeffrey Queen, who served as their interim for two years. In the midst of all this change, I am reflecting on the wisdom St. Paul shared with the Corinthian Church regarding transitions in leadership.
The Corinthian Christians were having difficulty adjusting to new leadership. In his first letter to them, St. Paul describes how transitions are a normal aspect of the life of Christians in community. His focus is upon the common purpose of building up the Church in its mission.
For when one says, ‘I belong to Paul’, and another, ‘I belong to Apollos’, are you not merely human? What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labour of each. For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building. – I Cor. 3:4-9
I might have written it this way:
It is human nature for one to say, ‘I liked Fr. So and So’, and another, ‘I didn’t like Fr. Such and Such’. Both are Pastors who tried to help you in your journey of faith using the gifts the Lord gave to each of them. One planted seeds, another watered them, but the resulting growth came from God. So, it’s really not about the Pastor, it’s about God! Each of us Pastors has a common purpose and that is to help you have enough faith to do the work God has prepared for you to walk in. – I Ron 3:4-9
I am not the Pastors who came before me. Nor am I the Pastors who come after me. God has gifted each of us in different ways according to the leadership God desires the Church to have in a particular place and time. Each of us brings something different to the communities we serve. Each one builds upon the work of those who came before, so the changes each one brings are not intended to dismantle things. Instead, the changes are related to the common purpose we share and are to be understood as additions or enhancements to what has been. Our common purpose is to help you be the Church in mission. It’s not about Fr. So and So or Fr. Such and Such. It’s not about me. It’s about God and God’s mission of reconciliation in the mission field at your doorstep.
You have been very open to changes during the last eighteen months. However, change is difficult for many people. We don't like it when something upsets the equilibrium and pushes us out of our comfort zone. So we resist and complain. Resistance to change, while human, can undermine the true spiritual discernment that has led to this union of Pastor and People, thwarting God's purpose. Most complaining about change when a new Pastor arrives constitutes avoidance of the real work to which God is calling the faithful. Valuable spiritual energy is wasted in an activity that is useless to the cause of Christ! So, I urge you to embrace the changes that are coming your way as new ways for God to work through you and your community of faith.
This time of transition is a unique opportunity for God to work wonders through divine interaction with the new relationships that are being formed. That is why departing clergy must step away. God is creating a new context in which to bring about growth. Trust God enough to invite your new Pastor and encourage one another to fully express the gifts God has given to help you be the Church. You will grow, the Church will grow, and the Kingdom of God will grow.
So let no one boast about human leaders. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all belong to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God. – I Cor. 3:21-22
Gay and I will continue to hold you and your new Rector and his family in our prayers. We will miss you, but we will rejoice as we watch from a distance as a new era of fruitful ministry unfolds. May God continue the good work God has begun in you!