The Rev. Grace Hackney: Ramblings of A Pastor in Transition

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I am moving this year, after serving at Cedar Grove United Methodist Church for seven years. Cedar Grove was my first appointment, so this is my first move.

This post is one of two on itinerancy transitions - the other is from the congregant's point of view.

I am moving this year, after serving at Cedar Grove United Methodist Church for seven years.  Cedar Grove was my first appointment, so this is my first move. I initiated the move, after long and careful discernment. I did not want this move to be my idea, but rather, God’s desire. I needed to know that I was not merely leaving, but rather, that God was calling me to a new place of ministry.

I am having a very hard time writing words that describe what it feels like to be leaving a congregation that God has called me to serve for the past seven years. The words do not come easy, because the feelings are so conflicted.

I am leaving, but I am not really going. I know that as a connectional church, and through the Holy Spirit, we are still One Body.

I am going to a new place of ministry, but the God I will proclaim is the same God I have proclaimed here for seven years.

I am leaving a group of people who desire to follow Jesus, but I am being sent to people who have also been baptized into Christ.

I have been leading people to go beyond the walls of the building and into the world, and that will not change, regardless of where I serve, because that’s what God is like.

While I am in the midst of transition, I cling to the steadfastness of the God who has called me to the itinerant ministry.  I know that my real home, any real stability I can cling to,  is the very heart of God, and yet, for seven years that heart has been made real  through a diverse group of folks I have come to love here in Cedar Grove.

I told the good folks of Cedar Grove that I was leaving in January, but I have not yet gone. I have already been given a new appointment, but I am not yet there. Already, but not yet. We pray for the grace to live in these “between times.” We should know how to do it, but we don’t.

There are goodbyes to be said, there are hurt feelings to be mended. Some folks are glad I am leaving, many others feel that their world has fallen apart, and still others accept the move as “the Methodist way.”  Emotions run high – there are tears mingled with laughter, trying to grasp every possible good minute we have remaining as pastor and congregation. But there is also the expected emotional distancing. While some folks are eager to spend as much time together as we can before the move, others have stayed away. It is easier that way.

Both my office and the parsonage are full of boxes. The Parsonage Committee is trying to figure out how to paint the interior and renovate the kitchen while we are still living there. Needs run high – people continue to die, crisis care has not ended, and for many, the pastor is needed more than ever.  And I still have bulletins to prepare and sermons to write.

In the words of The Book of Worship,

We have shared with each other good times and bad, 
we have shared each other’s joys and sorrows, 
we have lightened each other’s heavy loads.
Together we have laughed and cried,
Together we have worshiped and praised God,
Together we have lived. (UMC BOW, 590)

I might add that we have also argued, upset each other, said things we shouldn’t have said, and left each other hanging in confusion and anger. But we have not left each other hanging for very long.  We have asked for forgiveness, we have felt the joy and peace that comes from hearing the words, “In the name of Jesus Christ, I forgive you.”

When my daughter was in the second grade, she was the county winner of the Young Author’s writing contest. The title of her self-illustrated book was Am I Leaving or Am I Coming? A Child’s View of Moving.  We had just moved into a new neighborhood, a new house, and Sarah’s book began by citing the many reasons she was sad about the move. After moaning about all the steps in the new house, the smaller yard, and the lack of a flower garden, Sarah quickly moved to the assets of the new house and neighborhood: the 13 steps to her new room would provide her some privacy; there wasn’t much yard, but acres of woods to explore; we could start over with the garden, planting our favorite things, and trying some new plants.  Sarah’s attitude belied her barely eight years of life on this planet; her conclusion was simple but profound:  “I was never quite sure if I was leaving or coming. But I finally decided I was doing both…As for you, if you ever move, you can say you are both leaving and coming.”

I hope I can embrace this change with at least the maturity of a precocious eight year old.  Challenges will provide opportunities for redemption; whatever the physical layout of the new community, there will be territory waiting to be explored. And always, there will be opportunity for new gardens and seeds of faith to be planted.

The community of Cedar Grove will continue to thrive, because that is God’s desire. Already, a new person in love with God is preparing to come.  There will continue to be mountaintop experiences and dark valleys; there will continue to be Kingdom moments as well as opportunities to be raised from the darkness into the Light. Maybe, some of the seeds that have been planted during my last seven years will take root. New seeds will be planted. Church will happen.

Guest blogger: The Rev. Grace Hackney, NC Annual Conference
Photo Credit: Flickr/PhillipC

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