November 14, 2019
I have been amply rewarded.
One recent morning I eagerly helped a church member move some boxes into the church. As I did so, I asked in a good-natured way if such willing labor might be rewarded with coffee or some other morning refreshment. Without missing a beat, and perhaps in an attempt to discourage a coffee break while there was work to be done, he said, “your reward will be in heaven.” I heard this prophetic voice with conviction and kept my hand to the plow. Once all the boxes were stacked inside, my labor for the moment done, I said my warm goodbye and left my friend.
The simple act of saying hello is one of my favorite things to do here at St. Paul’s. I really do rejoice to greet the people of this church each Sunday morning at the front door, and I stand outside only because my eagerness to welcome you can’t be contained by wooden doors. If I missed seeing you before worship on Sunday, November 10, I am especially sorry that I didn’t get a chance to say hello. Because that Sunday I started the sad process of saying goodbye.
As I shared with the congregation that day, I will soon be leaving St. Paul’s. Sometime between now and the end of December I will become the pastor of Glenn Dale UMC. At that moment I will no longer be one of the pastors at St. Paul’s.
I have been privileged to serve this church for 12-1/2 years. That’s a good, long run in Methodist world. There have been 34 senior pastors who have served St. Paul’s during the 130+ years of its history. Of that large number, only one has served here longer than I have. Someone told me that the real news is not that I’m leaving; the remarkable news is that I’ve been able to stay for so long.
God did great things through us during those many years we stayed together. The church grew in size and in its missional outreach, further cementing its treasured place in the community. Through births and baptisms, confirmations, marriages and funerals, moments of joy and times of pain, my passion to grow churches and make disciples beautifully aligned with the needs of St. Paul’s in this extended season of ministry.
But, we now find ourselves in a new season. Over the past several months the Church Council and other gifted leaders of this church have done careful and prayerful work to prepare St. Paul’s to make an informed decision about whether or not to formally begin the process of becoming part of the Reconciling Ministries Network. Our vote to do so in October launches us into a new season of possibility as we discern who God is calling this church to be.
There is important work to be done in the season ahead, work that will likewise require careful and prayerful preparation. This holy task will become a major focus of our congregation. It will also require gifted leadership as St. Paul’s walks this new trail, leaders who are passionate about guiding the faithful into seeing new ways of being a welcoming church.
With great sadness, I confess that my gifts for leadership and my passions for ministry do not align with the new needs of this church I love. Rather than get in the way of the path the congregation needs to take, I understood that I needed to step aside. Some time ago I asked our district superintendent and our bishop to consider moving me to another church. I did this so that the right leader for this new season could be sent here. They wanted me to stay, but understood when I said I couldn’t be helpful to St. Paul’s in this effort. Bishop Easterling appointed me to Glenn Dale when their beloved pastor died in October. The people of that church, like a number of people at St. Paul’s, and like me, find this to be a season of sorrow.
The Holy Spirit, the Great Comforter, has a way of using time to bind up our wounds. As I move through the precious time remaining to us together, I will do what I have always loved to do. I will greet you at the front door on Sunday morning, smile when I welcome you, and pray for you when we are parted. I will also be mightily in prayer for the new pastor who will come to serve you after I am gone.
Until then, there is work to be done. As I have done for the past 12-1/2 years around here, I will eagerly help where I can. I’m happy to patiently wait to see what reward is laid up for me in heaven.
Until that glorious day, however, I am already blessed beyond deserving with the great reward of being a part of St. Paul’s for this long and fruitful season.