I just returned from teaching Church Leadership and Administration to this year’s Licensing school folks, our newest colleagues. I love doing this because I get to meet people as they are first entering ministry, and are still delighted and excited to be appointed and full of energy for their ministry. Do you remember when you were last excited about something in ministry? I see really cool things happening throughout our District – people being discipled, fed, and reached for Christ. New ministries happening, old ministries revived, and people finding their way to church for the first time. I’m so proud of all the work going on in this season!
A few of the new pastors I met have been serving as lay supply already, and in addition to the excitement of serving as pastors, I could also hear some concern and the weariness around working with some of the small churches they are assigned to as they disaffiliate. It is hard work walking through disaffiliation with a church, and I am very sad about their first experiences being clouded by this. Even in our strongest NoVa District churches, there are often a few loud voices who believe disaffiliation is an answer to something they find wrong in the current state of the UMC. Some see this as an escape from apportionments, from pastors they don’t agree with, or from Bishops and connectionalism they disdain. Because pastors have asked me about support and resources to deal with those voices in their congregations, I offer you this:
Let me be clear – I support all of our pastors and all of our churches AS United Methodist Churches. I serve the UMC in my work as Superintendent, I am a UMC elder, and most of you reading this are UMC pastors. We have a proud heritage, and I believe, a bright and fruitful future; the present is a struggle we can endure with God’s help. I love this reminder from the #BeUMC foundational statement and you may find it useful as well:
The United Methodist Church is founded on a Wesleyan theology of grace, anchored in Scripture, and based in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ and the continuing movement of the Holy Spirit.#BeUMC
The website #BeUMC (https://www.resourceumc.org/beumc) has a lot of other communication tools and ideas for sermons, discipleship, and other ways of sharing the joy and the strength of what is working in the UMC. I recommend it to all of you. For those struggling with a few loud grouchy voices, it can be of help. But it is a great resource for ALL NoVa churches to showcase the beauty of being part of the United Methodist Connection. Let’s #BeUMC together.
Meanwhile, please remember to stay refreshed and renewed through Sabbath, vacation, study, and renewal leave as needed. I also ask that you continue to make new connections with other pastors, other churches in your area, both UMC and ecumenical partners and connect with the resources at the District. I know that the best way to help the local churches live out their mission to make disciples and transform the world is to help their clergy leaders be the best that they can be at equipping disciples to do this work.
As we move toward the General Conference next year, know that we will be offering information sessions and learning opportunities for your laity as well as for you as clergy leaders. Yes, this is a difficult time, and much of what the future holds we do not know, but we need not fear when we know that God is present, loving, and gracious in our lives and the life of our churches. May God bless us all as we walk this journey, together.
Sarah Calvert is the District Superintendent for the Northern Virginia District