July brings a particular beginning that is significant to many United Methodists, and the recent conclusion of the California-Pacific Annual Conference makes this even more definitive – particularly for those who participated in the Conference. As your Pastor here at Pacific Beach United Methodist Church, you may know that my “church membership” does not reside at PB UMC or any other local church. My membership resides at the Annual Conference, and it is through our Bishop’s leadership at the Annual Conference that I am appointed to PB UMC; and my appointment continues in this place renewing on July 1, 2017.
Part of this Conference experience and this renewal of appointment is a reminder to me that I am but a sojourner in this place. Indeed, all United Methodist clergy are understood by nature of our appointment system to be sojourners. We are only in our communities temporarily.
Those who have been in United Methodist Churches for many years may recall times in decades past where it would not be uncommon for a Pastor to remain in a community for only a year or two. This kind of rapid-change system has fallen out of custom and now many of our churches and clergy enjoy longer appointments. Even so, it is important to know that our system is one where our pastoral leaders itinerate.
And I think this is a good and healthy thing for churches.
John Wesley – the founder of the Methodist movement – found great value in the itinerant system, largely because this requires action and leadership from the membership of the congregation and community. We might imagine that any system that experiences regular transitions in leadership requires active commitment and participation from the members of that system. Otherwise, the system will break down.
This is part of the Methodist tradition because we, like Wesley, see the primary leaders of any United Methodist congregation as its lay members. The primary role of our clergy is to offer spiritual guidance and care, and to cast an overall vision for the church. Again, the primary leadership belongs to the membership of the congregation.
In other words, this is your church! This is your community! The work done in this place and on behalf of the membership of the congregation is your work!
An even-more-fleeting example of the temporary nature of the sojourner is upon us as we begin this new appointment year. Many in our congregation have had the opportunity to get to know Christopher Carter as he has preached and offered some additional leadership with PB. Christopher was just Commissioned as a Provisional Elder at this past Annual Conference, and in addition to his continuing professorship at the University of San Diego he will be joining us more regularly in worship as well as other settings within the life of PB UMC.
The reason I note this as “an even-more-fleeting example of the temporary nature of the sojourner” is that Pastor Christopher is not appointed to PB UMC. His appointment is to continue teaching at USD. However, in our United Methodist system he must choose a congregation as his Charge Conference and Pastor Christopher has chosen this one.
This means that we will have the benefit of some of Pastor Christopher’s time and energy and leadership and care, and it means that we have the joy and responsibility of giving our care and support to Christopher and his wife Gabi. And because of Pastor Christopher’s substantial gifts for ministry, I suspect that we will only have this connectional opportunity for a short time. Indeed, friends, he is a sojourner in our midst.
I hope you will join me in welcoming Pastor Christopher and Gabi more fully into the ministries of PB UMC. We will share a brief moment during worship on July 2nd during our outdoor worship both in celebration of Pastor Christopher’s presence as well – if I may humbly assume – as my reappointment to continue as your servant leader.
May we continue to see God’s renewing and sustaining love as God continues to make all things new.