Pastor’s Ponderings

I’m MOVING not DYING!

Sometimes in the United Methodist Church it seems like when a pastor moves, the former congregation is completely cut off from all contact, almost as if the pastor has died. That really isn’t the case. I really am just moving a few miles east!

If you’ve been a United Methodist for a while, you’ve come to expect a pastor’s farewell to include instructions about the leaving pastor not returning to do weddings and funerals, and needing to limit contacts. What often gets left out of the discussion is the “why” behind this practice. Let me share both the “why” and some details about our future together…

–In the closing liturgy we will share on June 19th, you will “release” me from the obligations of being your pastor. This changes our relationship because when I am no longer your pastor, I am free to fully be your friend. As a friend, I can celebrate with you, and weep with you —without the additional responsibilities of being your pastor. I can do that because I am confident that your pastoral needs are cared for by my colleague, Pastor Gary Peterson.   I don’t want to cheat you out of the opportunity to bond with your new pastor. Many times pastors grow close to people and families when they walk together through seasons of illness and death, when they journey together to the wedding altar, or walk through tough times. That is true of my relationship with many of you. My hope and prayer is that you will form that same kind of intimate bond with Pastor Gary.  I do not want to do anything which might interfere.

-My new congregation will need my time and attention. Heritage UMC is my new flock and Pastor Gary Peterson is your new shepherd. I should not leave my flock to care for Pastor Gary’s sheep. To do so is not helpful to either congregation. Boundary-keeping insures everyone is provided care. I intend to honor those boundaries.

-My leaving does not imply that I forget you, or love you any less nor will I cease to care about you. Our lines of communication need not be completely severed, but the focus and the frequency of our communications will change.

– For instance, we can remain Facebook friends. (I won’t “unfriend” you. You decide if you want to unfriend me.) But I may be less active in replies, comments, and “likes”. I’ll watch the church’s website for pictures and updates. I’ll love reading about things that are happening around Claybanks, especially as you phase.   If you’re in the Howard City/Pierson area, please feel free to stop by and say hello. I’d love to see you.

– If I’m passing through, I might stop by to chat. I will only visit someone with the prior knowledge and consent of your pastor. That is a professional and covenantal courtesy.

– Pastor Gary will be presiding over all weddings and funerals as of July 1st. Occasionally, I may attend a funeral, as my schedule allows, but it will be as friend. I may come to a wedding as guest, if invited.  But I fully expect Pastor Gary Peterson will preside at these rites of passage as he ministers among you.  

– What I won’t do is this: engage in conversation about the details of the running of the church. I am happy to know about you and your family, even the successes and changes at the church, but I won’t even listen to particulars. My interest is in general not specifics. I won’t have pastoral care or counseling conversations.

-Pastor Gary Peterson and I are colleagues. I will be available to him if he has questions about something. He is the only one with whom I will talk about church business, and such conversations will remain confidential. I will not interfere with his ministry in any way. That helps you, it helps him, it helps me and it helps my new congregation. 

-Please know this though, friends, I have not shared with Pastor Gary any confidences you might have shared with me. Your personal story remains your story to tell. Pastors do not pass on things that have been shared in confidence. Clergy confidentiality is honored; it goes with the person, not the office. We only pass to one another details about the church operations and details about persons who are sick or home-bound, not personal, private stories. Someone said to me, “You mean I get a clean slate?” Yes, you do! If you want your new pastor to know something about your past or history, it is up to you to tell him.

Let me encourage you to welcome back some members who you’ve not seen in a while. Everyone doesn’t connect with every pastor. There are those for whom I’ve not been an effective and attentive pastor. I am sorry and seek forgiveness for my shortcomings and faults. My leaving can be a time of grace for them. Here’s a chance for them to return to church. Please welcome people back without judgment or grilling them about their absence. In fact, this is a great opportunity to reach out and invite them to return. Better yet, bring them with you toWorship. You can be God’s advocate of grace!

Finally, please let Pastor Gary be Pastor Gary.  We’re totally different people with completely different styles. Be as open to him (or even more so) as you were to me when I arrived 2 years ago.

I believe this move is of God. I believe that Pastor Gary is a gift God is giving Claybanks UMC for this new chapter.  Allow yourself to fully accept and receive what God is offering you through your new pastor.  I’ve discovered over my lifetime, that God’s gifts are always wonderful and worth opening and appreciating, even when they are somewhat surprising or unexpected!

Should you want to be in touch:  the church address is: 19931 W. Kendaville Road, Pierson MI 49339.  The church phone is 231-937-4310.  My email will remain the same: tlcummins5@aol.com.

June will be a busy month and you may not see me around much.  I’ll be at Annual Conference June 9-13.  My last full day in the Shelby church office will be June 16th but I will do some wrapping up at the office on June 23rd.   My last day of leading worship will be on June 19th. My move out date is tentatively set for June 28th but I remain the pastor of record through June 30, in case of an emergency or death.

Pastor Gary takes over officially on July 1st.  His cell phone number is 616-644-5520 and his email is glpeterson32@frontier.com. I hope that you will welcome Pastor Gary and his wife Reba in the same loving way that you welcomed me.

I thank you for the opportunity to live and worship among you.  I thank you for the opportunity to serve you.  I thank you for all the times I have made a misstep and you have loved me back to the right path.  The lessons I have learned with you have prepared me to be a much better pastor for Heritage UMC.  I leave a piece of my heart with you, but I know that you are in very good hands with Pastor Gary.  I pray that this congregation will thrive under his leadership.  

Shalom!

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