Sunday, November 8, 2020
For our sermon today, I spent the week wrestling with Matthew 25:1-13, but my daily practice of lectio divina with the Ritual App, which I highly recommend, had me wrestling with an entirely different parable, one from Luke 16:1-13, the Parable of the Unjust Steward. This parable begins with Jesus describing a household manager of a wealthy master, a steward, who was caught squandering the master’s property and was called to give a full accounting of his stewardship of all that he was entrusted to care for. The words ‘squandered’ and ‘full accounting’ jumped out at me and left me wrestling with the blessing. What does we mean by stewardship? We talk about it all the time, especially in the fall. We hold our stewardship campaigns, as people to complete their ‘commitment to give’ cards. The Rev. Dan Dick, a leader in the United Methodist Church, wrote beautifully that stewardship is ‘everything we do after we proclaim that we believe.” Stewardship is ultimately the way we live our lives as a gift given to God. I realized as I spent time with this parable that this was something I have been doing for the past year, giving a full accounting to God for my own stewardship. Where have I done well in my caretaking? Where have I not?
Some of you are aware that I live with several chronic illnesses, most of the autoimmune variety, but I also have a rare kidney disease. I don’t try to hide these, but I also don’t talk about them much. If I talk about them I have to think about them, and if I think about them then I notice how I am feeling. Perhaps not the best stewardship. These illnesses are progressive and deeply impacted by stress. I am very proactive and preventative and have lived with them for over 26 years. However, I started 26+ years ago with one diagnosis and now I have quite a collection due to the advancement of the disease(s) over the years.
During the past year, these illnesses have advanced more. I am currently ‘maxing out’ the dosages of my current medications and am taking increasing doses of steroids to maintain flare ups. If you know steroids, you know this is not sustainable. I am not being the best steward of the first gift God gave to me—my life, my body. I need to change, to significantly lessen the stress in my life and to give time to whatever healing is possible as I develop new rhythms of self-care.
In order to do this, I am stepping away from pastoral ministry. I am not leaving immediately. In the United Methodist Church clergy are appointed to a church from year to year. Each year the bishop and conference either appoint a pastor to the church they are currently serving, or a pastor is appointed to a new church, done with intense discernment. Appointment years run from July 1 to June 30th. I will serve out this appointment year, up to June 30th, so that we may utilize the structures within our denomination to transition together.
I did not make this decision quickly or lightly. I made the decision in conversation with my family, with my doctors, and with a great deal of prayer and discernment. I had hoped that the renewal leave this summer might be a ‘reset button’ for my health, but that was not the case.
What happens now?
- We continue to be in ministry together through June 30th. We pray together, plan together, wrestle to find blessings together.
- The bishop and cabinet, made up the district superintendents who supervise different areas in our conference, will begin a time of deep and prayerful discernment through the Holy Spirit in regular returns beginning after Christmas. Together the bishop and cabinet will find a new pastor with the gifts and grace and energy that you need, a reconciling and progressive pastor. As the Spirit moves, the new pastor will be announced sometime in the spring and we will work together to welcome this pastor just as wonderfully as you welcomed me.
What can you do?
- Pray! I don’t mean this in any light or flippant way. Prayer is the foundation of who we are, the means through which we deepen our relationship with God, and with one another. Be in prayer for our church family, for me, for the staff, for our conference, and for our Staff-Parish Relations Committee (SPRC), the HR committee of the church. The SPRC will be our primary liaison with the district superintendent and the conference during this transition.
- The SPRC is led by chairperson Steven Beyers and consists of Lay Leader Tigran Chatrchyan, Ashlee McGandy, Barbara Wernham, Diana Crouch and Michael Culotta.
- We will be seeking to add a few more people to SPRC, so please let me know if you are feeling called to be part of this work.
- Give! Again, I don’t mean this lightly or in any flippant way. Giving of your time and energy and talents for our work together is what the Body of Christ, the Church, is all about. Remember our Church Conference on November 17 at 6 pm through Zoom where we will be able to look back, look at the present, and look forward together. Also give of your resources. We are so deeply grateful for all the generosity of our church. We are certainly doing better than many churches financially during this pandemic. However, a portion of our income each year comes from building use donations from our many building partners. With this pandemic, much of those funds have not been coming in, for obvious reasons. Anything you can give to help is deeply appreciated.
- Keep focused, vigilant, alert—God is ALWAYS with us. Jesus is ALWAYS coming to us. We are a church family connecting through the Spirit. Let us living into this assurance in this uncertain time.
- Connect! Reach out to one another—phone calls, emails, cards. Read the biweekly emails for updates and new information. Interact with your church family through our social media platforms. Engage with staff.
- And finally, trust that I will share if I need help. I will work hard in doing so. Asking repeatedly will not be as helpful as being ready to respond when I lift up a need. Thank you!
We do have a new district superintendent-Rev. Vonda Fossitt. Due to the pandemic, you have not had an opportunity to meet her. She will be our advocate in the cabinet as they meet to discern the pastoral leadership of St. Paul’s. She will work with our SPRC to lift up our needs and our gifts and graces. She is actively praying for us even now. Rev. Fossitt recorded for us an introduction to share at our upcoming Church Conference, but I feel that it is helpful to see it here today. Let us hear from Rev. Vonda Fossitt (video is also available on our YouTube page).
Let us lift our voices in song-prayer using the beautiful words of St. Patrick:
Christ beside me, Christ before me, Christ behind me King of my heart;
Christ within me, Christ below me, Christ above me never to part.
Christ on my right hand, Christ on my left hand, Christ all around me shield in the strife;
Christ in my sleeping, Christ in my sitting, Christ in my rising light of my life. Amen.