Tuesday, June 10

Saying Goodbye

I recently wrote a post about the "Mayas" in our lives. I have been fortunate to encounter a lot of extraordinary people in my life. One of the first was my mentor Joe Campbell (read my post about him by clicking on his name) - he taught me how important it is to not dismiss people because they are different. He talked with artists, writers, poets, people abducted by aliens, musicians, hypnotists...lots of different people. And yet he still had time for the mental ramblings of a twentysomething.

I have written in this space before about my great friend Kathleen Sihlanick - a lady who broke the glass ceiling before anyone realized it was there.

Today I feel I need to honor another person who has had tremendous impact on my life - my Pastor, Rick Ecklund. It is with a heavy heart, because he is moving to another church very soon. The blessing and curse of being a United Methodist - where pastors are sent, not hired. I read a very amusing book recently called "The Search Committee" about a team of Presbyterians searching for their new preacher. Although I could certainly relate to the personalities of the characters (ALL churches are full of characters), this idea of a search committee is foreign. In the United Methodist denomination the conference bishop, his/her cabinet (yes, we have had a woman bishop in the Virginia UMC Conference!) and the district superintendent make the decision of who goes where.

Bishop Cho, District Superintendent
 Larry Davies and Pastor Rick.
When I was growing up, it seemed like the minister moved about every 4 years...whether that was true of every church's minister or just Madison Heights UMC, I do not know. I do know that I have become accustomed to the fact that pastors leave. There are good reasons for that process - congregations can become too reliant on a pastor, or begin to follow the pastor instead of God, or become so set in the status quo that "we've never done it that way before" becomes an acceptable response to new ideas.

Every minister that I have been blessed with has brought different gifts to the church. Some are incredible speakers, sermons challenging and inspiring the members each week. Some are great theologians, Bible scholars, educators - those have encouraged increasing knowledge of the Bible and church history. Still others bring organization skills or pastoral care or an emphasis on spiritual gifts. Sometimes it is just new blood that a congregation needs to reignite their ministry.

Though I am used to this process - this particular change (after eight years!) is going to be harder than ever. Mostly because Pastor Rick has been the first to encourage me to explore ministry from the pulpit. He and his wife Pastor Liz Ecklund (also a United Methodist minister) have challenged me to look at the possibility of ordained ministry. I am not sure what direction I will go with that calling - I am still trying to discern what path God wants me to follow. But when I mentioned it as something that had been marinating in my mind - Rick was on my side. He did not sugarcoat the challenges that a pastor faces, but he reminded me that if God wants me on that path, I can rely on him to be with me through it all.

Rick popping Jiffy Pop for a movie
night at the church. Note, he is popping
corn ambidextrously!
Pastor Rick is not universally loved by every single person in the church - people who are universally loved by everyone are usually trying to be what every person wants them to be. And that just isn't real. Rick is who he believes God wants him to be - someone focused on making disciples of Jesus Christ - and is completely real about it. When meetings get bogged down with disagreement, he reminds us of what our true purpose is supposed to be as a church: to be witnesses of Jesus Christ's redeeming love in a hurting world. And if the disagreement doesn't have something to do with that, it is petty and should not be what we get focused on.

A new stole to remember Centenary by...
I like that he is real. He is not a repeat of the last pastor, or the one before that...he has confidence in his gifts and uses them to the best of his ability. He is willing to hear new ideas (and float a few of his own) and try new things. Maybe "we've never done it that way before" OR maybe "we tried that and it didn't work." The default isn't "I don't think so" - the default is "let's give it a whirl."

Make no mistake, he is grounded in the core beliefs of Christianity. He believes that God sent his only son into the world - not to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved. He just respects that not everyone agrees on some of the details - and that shouldn't stop us from doing what we are supposed to do. Be the light. Love one another. Stop judging...that isn't our job.

Rick is a great minister - I love to hear his sermons (he preaches from the common lectionary - so I can study the scriptures ahead of time! Then I can compare my "take" on the scripture with his.), he is wonderfully caring (I can always count on him for a listening ear), he tries hard to connect our congregation with the mission and ministry of the district, conference and United Methodists around the world. I will miss his leadership. I will miss his guidance. I will miss his friendship. I'll even miss his dry Yankee sense of humor.

I'm ready to embrace the transition. I look forward to what new gifts and talents Rev. Doug Gunsalus will bring. He must be good - his last church kept him for 13 years! And I wish Pastor Rick the best as he settles into a new appointment at Main Street UMC in Bedford. Maybe he won't be universally loved there either, but I am willing to bet that it will be the vast majority that come to love and respect him...just like me.

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