This is an anxious time for the churches and pastors who expect a move in the United Methodist Church this year. Itineration is at the heart of who we are and what we do in clergy deployment and is a reflection of our outward focus to the world. We are people of community – a community of faith that builds us up and holds us accountable, and a secular community that needs our ministry! In Wesley’s parlance we do “works of piety” to strengthen our personal holiness, and we do “works of mercy” to transform the world for Christ.
Both of these actions are best done in community. Our piety is enhanced and built in discipleship groups and relationships. For clergy those relationships are bound by covenant in the annual conference and expressed in local churches or other extension ministries. Our works of mercy center on our local and global community. Our entire system is one in which we embrace the motto, “Together We Can Do More!”
Therefore, in and for community, through the combined efforts of many, we move clergy around to enhance works of piety and mercy. John Wesley called this active movement of clergy, “the apostolic plan of evangelization.” He sincerely believed that a primary genius of the Methodist Movement was itineration. Clergy were not to become “settled” as they routinely were in the Anglican Church of his day. In his mind, it was better for clergy to be constantly on the go in outreach to the world. The United Methodist Church continues to call clergy and laity alike to have a vibrant responsive ministry to our contextual realities!
Over the years more and more clergy have stayed longer in places. This can be a great thing if clergy and churches are continually creating new ways to minister to people. If churches and clergy are going through the motions, then it’s not. John Wesley said of himself, “If I were to stay in one place for a year, I would preach myself to sleep!” Wow, that’s a tough threshold, but his point, of course, is keeping the Gospel fresh, and the laity and the clergy, too.
But here I am about to move from being a District Superintendent back to the parish (At least that’s my hope), and I’m pondering how well I am handling the anxiety? I just got off the phone with a young clergyperson about to take their first appointment and my repeated advice to him was, “Pray and hang tight” By the way, “Hanging tight” does not mean to tense up. It is a charge to hold onto faith more than ever!
These are words that I need to heed. This is the first time in my ministry that I have known in advance that I’m definitely moving! There’s an eight-year term limit on DS’ so this has been anticipated, but I think that knowing I’m moving has actually exacerbated the uncertainty more than diminishing it. I have 15 more years of service somewhere(s), and am ready to let go of the trapeze bar that I’m on and grab the one that’s flying my way!
I’ve been meeting almost daily and quite a few times on Sundays with the persons anticipating moves in the Columbia District – S/PPRC’s and clergy. Everyone’s a bit nerved out. Sure, I know that this emotion will switch to anticipation and excitement when appointments are announced on March 10, but until then what can I and they do to find a centering place in God? When all of us in pulpit or pew have had what we perceived as less than favorable experiences in the past, what do we do to allay our fears today?
Isaiah 40 is an anchor in this storm of “already and not yet.” It begins in verse one with a message of comfort. Isaiah 40:1-11 is a song about God’s redemptive power. Words and phrases that speak of hard service being completed; that God’s comfort is greater than our fear of calamity or the “System” is balm to our souls. I especially like verse 11: “He (God) tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.”
For every clergyperson with a family, it’s good to know that God and the Cabinet care for you, your young, and whatever special circumstance is yours! God’s care extends to all involved in the appointment process. Yes, there will be hard decisions made, and there will be disappointments, but by the grace of God there will not be any mis-appointments when it’s all said and done!
Further comfort from Isaiah 40 is lined out in the litany of things, people, and systems that are no match for God. Verses 12-26 dare us to ask, “Who is God’s equal?” Is God greater than the nations? Absolutely! Is God greater than any human idol including a “plum” appointment? You know so! Is Creator God more powerful than creation, and the answer is certainly “Yes!” Is God greater than the princes and rulers of this world who sometimes are called bishops and superintendents? You better believe it! Is God greater than the starry host and the cosmos’ systems? By all means!
If this is all true Isaiah 40:27 confronts my fears with the pertinent question: “Why do you say, O Jacob (Tim), and complain, O Israel (Your name), ‘My way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded by my God?’” If God is greater than the litany of powers lined out in the earlier verses, then there is no cause for complaint or fear. There is, on the other hand, cause for great faith!
Therefore, Isaiah 40 concludes with a canticle of praise and comfort:
“Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary, and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young people stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”
For all of us in this itinerant ministry called United Methodism, may we hold fast to God and trust!!! In the Olympic spirit give a listen to Eric Liddell’s reading from Isaiah 40 in the movie “Chariots of Fire.” Pray and hang tight!