It is with both great sadness and tremendous excitement that I share the news that was broke Sunday that I am projected to move from Liberty & Post Oak United Methodist Churches in Camden, Tennessee to become the Associate Pastor at First United Methodist Church in Jackson, Tennessee.

It was only two years ago that my family packed up our stuff in Nicholasville, Kentucky to move to Camden, where we were welcomed by a remarkably hospitable community of people at these two loving churches. Liberty & Post Oak have undergone several leadership transitions in the last few years. What is a true testament to the health and resilience of these congregations is that amidst these transitions, Liberty & Post Oak have experienced growth in worship attendance, professions of faith in Christ, and increased participation in mission efforts and lay leadership, including young people who are often taking the lead in exciting new ways. It is truly difficult to leave these growing congregations when things are moving forward. But I want to commend Bishop Bill McAlilly (see his recent post about pastoral appointment announcements here) and the cabinet for identifying and sending a quality pastor here in Rev. Travis Penney, who has served as the pastor at Big Springs UMC in Hardeman County the last four years. Travis is young, energetic and eager to lead Liberty & Post Oak as they turn the page from this short chapter I have shared with them. Just as my predecessor did a great job of making my entry into this appointment quite seamless, I will do my best to do the same in working with Travis to make this transition a healthy and fruitful one!

While I will greatly miss these great folks in Camden, I am also thrilled for the opportunity to take on a new role by joining the great work that the people at First UMC in Jackson are doing by serving as their Associate Pastor. First Church is located in downtown Jackson and has recently added a campus at Andrews Chapel, which is situated just a few miles west of the downtown campus. With there being two campuses, I will still be able to preach on a weekly/regular basis and lead in worship, which is one of the most fulfilling parts of my ministry. I will also have pastoral care responsibilities, which is one of my strongest spiritual gifts, including leading Stephen Ministry. In addition, I will have opportunities once or twice per week to lead in Christian formation and discipleship by teaching classes. To go along with this, I will get to work with the Senior Pastor, Rev. Dan Camp, who is a great leader from whom I will have much to learn. One of the areas where I feel confident I will grow in this context will be in terms of administration.

This, of course, only scratches the surface of what all is going on at FUMC and I am very eager learn more of how I can and will be co-laboring with them and taking part in the great kingdom work being done in their midst! See you in June, Jackson!

A look inside the beautiful sanctuary at Jackson FUMC! (photo credit: jacksonfumc.org/about/wedding_policies)

A look inside the beautiful sanctuary at Jackson FUMC! (photo credit: jacksonfumc.org/about/wedding_policies)

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Our new bishop in the Nashville Episcopal Area, including the Memphis Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church, is Bill McAlilly, from Mississippi. I have been blessed by what I’ve read from him and by the time he shared with our district (Paris, TN) earlier this week. Bishop McAlilly has an exciting vision and grand expectations for what God has in store for The United Methodist Church at large, the Tennesse and Memphis Conferences and the local churches within the connection. In particular, from the district-wide meeting we held earlier this week, he said that building trust among one another is a key to making our church vital once again.

Bishop Bill McAlilly, of the Nashville Episcopal Area, including the Memphis and Tennessee Annual Conferences. (Photo credit: bishopbillmcalilly.wordpress.com)

I highly recommend you follow his website/blog, whose name derives from a praise song written by Chris Tomlin. He elaborated in the meeting this week about “greater things” by pointing to the promise of Jesus to his disciples in John 14 where Jesus told them that they would do “greater things” than he did because of his return to the Father’s side and by the sending of the Holy Spirit to empower them to heal the sick and proclaim the gospel. You can find and read more about him and his vision from his blog by clicking on the link below.

Greater Things Are Yet To Be Done.

“We’ve got too many pastors serving 3-point charges in this conference…” a Bishop was quoted as saying in my United Methodist Polity class in seminary. The statement continued, “…the church they used to serve, the church they’re appointed to now, and the one they want to be appointed to next.”

The professor used this line as a way of discussing boundaries within pastoral ministry; that you do not (or at least should not) converse much, if at all, with parishioners who used to be under your care and/or are being served by another pastor now. There is great wisdom in this statement, though it is all the more challenging now in the age of social media where networking with friends and acquaintances who live a few hours or half the globe away is possible through venues like facebook, twitter, and so on.

While the statement that led this post off is certainly true of some who have been entrusted to lead in the United Methodist Church, it is my hope that it does not mark the attitude of many or most. Call me naïve, and maybe you’re right, but the fear that some other pastor may be “out to get me or my [current or desired] appointment” feeds a profound, even if subtle, sense of mistrust among United Methodist pastors.

Still, maintaining healthy boundaries is important during the steady or growing seasons when there is neither a need nor desire for a change in pastoral leadership of a charge, but I echo the suggestion Joey Reed, the pastor who preceded me at Liberty & Post Oak UMCs, has made in calling for more transparency when a transition is projected. (You can and should read his side of the story here.) It’s been four weeks since I’ve moved into the parsonage & charge he previously inhabited. I’m not sure where I’d be if it weren’t for his helpful responses to the many questions I raised in preparation for moving into pastoral ministry.

Handing off the baton in a relay requires keen timing, vision, and trust between relay partners. Listen to the way Gail Devers describes it about 20 seconds into the video of this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vQCi3mayB3Q The implications abound for how this is analogous to changes in pastoral leadership. (Photo credit: blog.orgsync.com)

Yes, this is my first appointment, and that means that there were fewer responsibilities on my part as I wasn’t saying goodbye as a pastor to another congregation, though saying goodbye to our friends at Nicholasville UMC was difficult and tear-filled. Since I didn’t have the same sort of duties that most other UM Pastors have who go through the process of saying goodbye to one charge and hello to the new one, my preparation looked a little different than most. Still, I had in the back of my mind the territorialism I was warned about so often during my education. Therefore, I proceeded with caution when I approached Joey with a few questions about the Liberty and Post Oak churches, to which I was projected to be appointed. I even asked for forgiveness in advance if I happened to overstep a boundary.

I didn’t know Joey before my projected appointment but I had actually encountered his name before. I had been living in central Kentucky for the past decade before moving back to the Memphis Conference. I confided in my college roommate and longtime close friend (a United Methodist pastor in the Kentucky Conference) that I was pursuing re-entrance into the ordination process (another story for another day) in the UMC and hoping for an appointment in the Memphis Conference, in which I was raised as a child and youth and was previously a certified candidate for ordained ministry. Upon sharing this news with my friend, his wife said, “Oh, my cousin’s husband is a pastor in the Memphis Conference!” That cousin’s husband was…you guessed it, Joey Reed.

So I knew his name, but I didn’t really know him, so (again) I proceeded with caution. When I first made contact with him via email, he promised to be as open as he could, with obvious exceptions like maintaining confidentiality of conversations with parishioners where it was expressed or assumed. Needless to say, I was very relieved to have his promised candor, and he did not disappoint as he followed through in that regard. He and his family even opened up the parsonage for my family to view and measure each room. This was very helpful for my wife, an avid planner, who did a blueprint of each room to be able to plan out in advance how to arrange the furniture, etc. This brings up a significant issue in pastoral transitions and how more transparency can help: the role of the pastor’s family and the changes, emotions, and expectations they experience along the way. Joey’s family made us feel right at home as they sent pictures and measurements, opened their homes, and even gave gifts to our kids (ages 5 & 2 at the time; think about how much that meant to them!).

Most of my questions were logistical in nature, trying to get a sense of the way things were run at each congregation, the time of the services, how structured the liturgy was at each church, etc. We didn’t discuss personalities or mention names, except to point out the names of people in certain positions of leadership at the churches. But the questions I asked that required the more lengthy discussions (where he writes we had to take some breaks for meals…lol!) were the ones about the direction and vision of the churches. Now, these conversations should always take place between the new pastor and her/his congregation(s) and I would need to hear these matters from the folks at the churches themselves also, but knowing that Joey was transitioning out of Liberty and Post Oak on good terms made the dialogue appropriate, in my view, as he gave me some perspective in preparation. (Obviously, the pastor leaving on “good terms” is not always the case, so practicing discernment on which questions to ask and which to wait to ask until arrival is obviously significant.) That Joey left Liberty & Post Oak on good terms has had the blessings of being able to be more prepared, even if that meant more challenges in filling the shoes of one who was so well-liked by the people. I experienced and witnessed that he was beloved by the congregations in several ways and I especially saw this at a reception, a meet-and-greet of sorts for me and my family at the churches where both his family & mine were in attendance. I had already been told of the abundant hospitality of both the Reeds and the churches. When I experienced it firsthand and saw his encouraging them to warmly welcome us, that meant the world to me.

But even if you’ve read Joey’s previous post and if you’re reading this thinking I’m being too naïve and that little if any of this would work in many situations, would you please incorporate one thing into the life of your church the next time you are in the midst of pastoral transition? Please pray for the incoming pastor, by name, in the service, every week from the time when the projected appointment is made until the new pastor moves into the pulpit. As helpful as Joey’s transparency and the churches’ hospitality was in preparation for the move, these prayers were the most important part and gave fuel to the process that made my transition as easy as it could be. We Methodists believe in prevenient grace…that God’s grace has gone before us wherever we are. But belief in prevenient grace also includes the notion that God’s grace is going before us wherever we will go next. Once the projection of a transition has been made, as long as you’re alive and conscious there’s nothing (except your own will and pride) that could prevent your prayers for the new pastor and his/her family in the transition that lies ahead of them. And maybe, just maybe, if we genuinely lift up to God in prayer those who are heading our way, we might find that our hearts will be moved to make the landing strip a little more smooth than what has been the norm and fewer batons will be dropped.

My predecessor at Liberty & Post Oak UMCs, Joey Reed, and I are publishing a dual blog posting which will tell of the transparent transition from his leadership of the charge to mine. It is our hope that some of our experiences and practices will be helpful suggestions for others to consider embracing in future transitions in pastoral leadership. Joey has shared his side of the story today, which you should read & can by clicking the link below. I’ll post my side of the story next week; so stay tuned.

Turn and Face the Change » One Pastor’s Thoughts: Rev. Joey Reed, OSL.