On my renewal leave, I prayed about whether it was time to retire (more about that in a minute). In my many conversations with God over the summer, one message came through loud and clear:
Do not worry about the Arlington District, I will provide.
When I spoke with Bishop Lewis about what we needed in the next District Superintendent (DS), I shared with her God’s promise. And when the Bishop told me that she was appointing (the Rev. Dr.) Sarah Calvert to be your next DS, I said, “You have delivered on the Lord’s promise! I am more than overjoyed!” Let me share with you why.
- Sarah is a mission strategist. She is one of the best I know. And she’s been partnering with me on the District, dreaming and coming alongside local churches to revitalize for five years now. She has connected with other revitalizers across the country and brings all the leading edge practices that other conferences are doing to us.
- Sarah knows the churches in the District: She knows the District as a colleague (serving Galilee UMC as an associate for 6 years, and starting a second campus at a retirement community, now called Lansdowne Woods). She knows the churches and the pastors because she has preached at our churches, led strategic planning sessions, problem-solved, and led a wide variety of programs and initiatives that involve almost all of you. Sarah is familiar with the joys and challenges of serving different sized churches: she was lead pastor in the Valley for a smaller church.
- Sarah is a life-long learner and is serious about her own spiritual formation. She avidly reads the latest and best in church revitalization. She participates in a weekly peer learning group. And she prays and practices spiritual disciplines daily (she’s especially fond of prayer walking). Sarah also has a Doctor of Ministry in leadership.
- Sarah is a trained coach. She is passionate about helping people and churches grow deeper in Christ, and more effective in ministry and vitality. She has been professionally trained as a coach and loves mentoring people and churches.
- Sarah has “woo”! This is a term that the Gallup Strengths Finder uses to describe people who love the challenge of meeting new people and winning them over. Sarah gets energy from connecting with new people and breaking the ice. She’s always checking to make sure nobody gets left out. And she makes it fun in the process.
I knew Sarah in seminary but really got to know her on a 14-hour return flight from Korea, when we had both traveled with Bishop Cho on one of his spiritual renewal pilgrimages. I was a new DS, and Sarah was taking a year of personal leave to write. And somehow, the Holy Spirit arranged for us to sit next to each other. I had been praying about a new position that Ken Jackson and I had been dreaming about—a Bi-District Church Revitalizer. At the end of the flight, it suddenly came to me: Sarah was the one! Long story short: she came.
When the District Superintendency Committee met to discern what the District needed in the next DS, they concluded they needed someone to keep the momentum going. Someone who could continue to come alongside local churches for the sake of new vitality. Someone who could start new faith communities. Someone who could experiment. When the Bishop heard this and prayed over the many names that had been suggested to her: she heard the Lord saying “Sarah.”
On my renewal leave, I thought and prayed a lot about the life-long covenant we make when we become elders. Being a pastor isn’t like a secular job, when you retire you’re done. Being an elder is a commitment to serve—in a set apart way—for the rest of our lives. So, I wondered, what does it mean to “retire”? What is my next ministry? I read a lot of Henri Nouwen and Parker Palmer and concluded that I am called to be an artist who connects people to the living God. I am especially enamored of icons. I am also feeling called to the covenant of family: having two granddaughters (ages 8 and 14 months—see the picture) is a great pull. I have worked (or gone to school) my entire adult life: 2 years as a peace interne after college; 27 years in the energy business; 13 years as a pastor. Now it is time for the family to get more of my time and attention. I am in good health (praise God), and eager to see what new adventure God has in store for me next. It has been a joy and privilege to serve for six years as your DS. But I leave you in good hands! And that is a blessing.