As a United Methodsit preacher, I always get a little nervous this time of year, even though I have been at my present appointment for 12 years. And, we don’t move like they used to move. But, every year as we approach Annual Conference, some are packing and hiring movers and getting ready to say goodbye to the place where they are. Soon, they will stand in a new pulpit and a new place. They will move into a new home.
I, and my dear wife and family, have moved seven times and we are getting ready for our last move to retirement. After 12 years in the same place, I’m remembering why I don’t like moving. There’s just so much to do to get ready to move, and if you’re going to another church appointment you’re gearing up for another challenge.
The Methodist way of itineracy goes way back to Father John himself who logged many miles on horseback. But, we’re in the modern world now and it somehow seems obsolete. There are so many needs to consider, so many people in the process. Our system in which we move one pastor out on one Sunday and the next Sunday there is another pastor at the church has always seemed “out of date” to the surrounding denominations who “call” their preachers.
United Methodist preachers are indeed called by God, but the Bishop appoints us to our place of service. We agree to that at ordination, though some forget it in the heat of battle. Most, however, go willingly to a new place. We all somehow still believe that God is in on this and that God goes ahead of us. We are sent.
There’s something very special about the fact that we are sent. We don’t get to pick our place of service. How utterly Biblical for God to appoint us to our place of service.
I have been so blessed to have been sent to some great churches. God was present in all of them, though it was harder to see God in some of them. Some of my friends have not been as blessed. I can remember listening and praying with friends who were going to appointments that they believed would be harmful. Most all of them survived, by the grace of God.
There is an old story about a preacher at Annual Conference in SC back when the appointments were acutally read out loud in front of God and everybody. The bishop read the appointment and one brother stood up and said: “We’re ruined Elizabeth!” Sometimes going to a place that we do not know or really want to go to can be difficult. We are a little like Abraham who went out not knowing where he was to go.
I would not have chosen a single appointment that I have served, but I would not take anything for having served every one. In each church and place, there was much of God’s work to do. And, there was always grace.
So, to all my brothers and sisters who are packing up now, I say: “Good for you! God is with you wherever you go!” It’s a daunting task to risk ministry, but nothing is more rewarding.
Go. Go in peace! The one who came to us in Jesus comes now to speed you on your journey. So be it.