given on Sunday, June 28
June is ending and July looms ahead and kicks off with a holiday—the Fourth of July. Summer is here, vacations are planned, and I feel like celebrating.
The question, though, is what would I be celebrating. And who has ever heard of celebrating as part of a worship service. Well, one thing I have long known is that in all our human experiences, there are times that we need to celebrate.
Therefore, today I am going to celebrate even though the reason may seem elusive. There is no birthday to celebrate, no major event, but in my experience I have passed a milestone that I want to celebrate.
This Sunday marks the end of seven years as a pastor. This same Sunday marks the beginning of the eighth year, right here in the same charge. I am not one who is moving from one appointment to another. I am blessed to be able to stay and continue in the work God has asked me to do.
There is more to this need to celebrate, because seven years has long been a goal for me. My history is no secret. I grew up as farmer’s daughter in a rural community living among my dad’s relatives. Mom was a faith leader, especially after I left for college, and she had insisted that we attend church in town rather than at the family church only about three miles away. The church in town was eight miles away.
Decisions like that were radical in the 1950s, but it is a decision I believe was instrumental in my faith development. In town, the church was active and offered more opportunities to be involved than the rural church. There were Sunday school classes with kids from town that I would not have known until high school. There were choirs for every age.
And as a high schooler, there were even more—camping trips and outreach activities. Maybe there were not as many opportunities as in metropolitan areas, but certainly more than most rural.
My faith journey could easily have gone the wrong way, but instead I grew up in a community of strong, faith-based Christians—Methodists, United Methodists after 1968. The models included a wide range of businessmen, professionals, farmers, workers, and ministers.
The turn over in ministers was something I never really could understand. Our family would connect with a pastor, and then after a few years, he would be re-assigned.
I became aware of a significant number and that number was seven. Seldom did a pastor every stay more than 3-5 years, and if they were in our pulpit for seven years, you knew he would be appointed elsewhere rather than stay for the eighth year.
Serving even years in one church developed in my thinking that no pastor could stay longer than seven years even if he was doing everything he was expected to do. This also lead me to believe that if a minister stayed seven years, he had to leave before he became too attached to the congregation.
Today ends seven years, and I feel like celebrating! Of course I know much more about the complex decision process of appointing pastors, but I do not care. I am continuing right here for the next year, number eight.
Beginning ministry so late in life may seem out of the ordinary and a bit surprising. I have had the opportunity to try two other careers—local journalism and education. Yet every year, I dealt with constant challenges either to my ethics or to my pull for something else I could not identify.
The pull, for lack of any better word, just would not let go. The days and years flew past me, but The Pull never seemed far away. Never did I think that God was calling me into ministry, but I knew there was something else God had in mind. I just figured that it was a different career.
How many times have you felt The Pull to do something but simply could not put it into words? I think this is common for many of us. There is always something else on the edge of our mind or a dream that seems to recur over and over again.
We get really good at ignoring God’s talking to us. We want to have a one-on-one conversation with him, and know that it is God right there with us. Unfortunately, there is no one-on-one conversation like that. God does not physically show himself to us, sit down in a chair, and say, “Susan, I want you to be a pastor.”
When God talks to us, he whispers. He sends an emissary like a best friend or an acquaintance who pushes you to think about something different. You can be driving the car or riding a bike, and a sudden thought interrupts you. God does talk to us.
Part of my celebration today is that I finally heard God’s call. I have a pastor to thank who simply asked why I had not gone into ministry. I have a family who has supported the decision to add this into our lives. And, I discovered that God has been waiting ever so patiently for me to hear him.
Yet, what does this mean today? That is tough. God’s work is never done—a cliché as we hear it so often. Yet it is not done. I could celebrate the acknowledgement that we have a grant to implement technology into Community UMC, but it will take planning, realigning some practices and work to get it done.
Another celebration could be for an endowment that came the same week that provides the matching funds. The receipt is a gift, but the truth is it came at a loss. Can we celebrate such a gift? Yes, especially if the gift goes toward improving the church’s ministry.
Our hymn today, This Is a Day for New Beginnings, was new to us a few years ago, but you risked learning it. The words provide us with the guidance we need as year eight begins:
This is a day of new beginnings,
Time to remember and move on,
Time to believe what love is bringing,
Laying to rest the pain that’s gone.
What history has recorded of this church is not necessarily what this church is now. Neither is history going to define the future of the church. One more hurrah for the past, but then we must move on.
The third verse of the hymn is our future:
Then let us, with the Spirit’s daring,
Step from the past and leave behind
Our disappointment, guilt, and grieving,
Seeking new paths, and sure to find.
Looking toward the future keeps hope alive. More importantly, as Christians we have a responsibility to keep God’s story alive. A hundred years ago, who would have thought we would use telephones. Fifty years ago, televisions entered into our living rooms. And in the last 25 years, the Internet has connected all communities so neighbors are as close the opposite side of the globe as they are next door.
The fourth verse provides the reasoning we celebrate today yet keep our Christian faith focused on ministry to all:
Christ is a live, and goes before us
To show and share what love can do.
This is a day of new beginnings,
Our God is making all things new.
Join in my celebration of ministry. Let’s look to the future and find the best ways we can to keep God’s message growing in our community. God is talking to us. Are we listening, and are we acting on what he tells us?
Let’s shut the door on seven years and look ahead. I am making a transition and we all need to be working together to see that the future is God-filled and our lives are God-centered.
Dear loving God,
Thank you for the patience you have shown
as the years have moved quickly past.
Thank you for never giving up on us
to hear you guide us in ministry to your world.
Thank you, too, for the rich heritage of these churches
who have guided generations along faith journeys.
Now, Lord, guide us in decisions to minister
to the new generations in a changing community.
Whisper into our hearts the ways to tell the story,
to minister to the poor, the lonely, and the hurting.
Lead us in celebrating our own faith journeys
and those who are meeting you for the first time.
Keep the past in the past.
Open today’s hearts, minds and hand.
Welcome the future.
Let’s celebrate Christ in our lives. –Amen