Continuing Our Sacred Journey: Year Four

Northern Illinois United Methodists hear God’s call to set-apart ministries in different ways, and The United Methodist Church has a number of categories for those who lead and serve, lay and clergy. Barbara Sutton (pictured to the right with Bishop Dan Schwerin) was consecrated as a deaconess at the UMC General Conference last month and the NIL recognized and affirmed her consecration. (A deaconess or home missioner is a layperson who commits to a lifetime of love and justice.) 

This past week at our Northern Illinois Annual Conference, Bishop Schwerin appointed me to serve as your pastor at the United Methodist Church of Geneva for the fourth consecutive year. It is with joy and gratitude that I share this news with you. Each year, our bishops and their cabinets review the appointments of every pastor in our conference, ensuring that the needs of both the churches and the pastors are met in the most effective ways possible.

You might be curious about how this process works. In the United Methodist Church, clergy appointments are made on an annual basis. This tradition is rooted in our connectional system, which emphasizes the interconnectedness and mutual support among all United Methodist congregations.

The process begins with bishops and their cabinets assessing the needs of the entire conference, which includes reviewing the needs of each local church and the gifts and graces of each clergy member. It’s a comprehensive and prayerful endeavor, aimed at matching pastors with congregations where their skills and passions can flourish.

While the notion of moving pastors every year might seem unsettling, it’s important to understand that the UMC values the stability and continuity that can come with longer-term appointments. Indeed, many pastors, like me, serve in their appointments for several years – sometimes even five to ten years. However, these appointments are still subject to annual review, reflecting our church’s commitment to adapt and respond to evolving needs and circumstances.

The annual nature of appointments serves several purposes:

  1. Connectional Responsiveness: Our church operates as a connectional system, meaning that appointments are not just about individual congregations but also about the broader mission of the conference. This ensures that all churches, regardless of size or location, have access to pastoral leadership that meets their needs.
  2. Flexibility and Adaptation: Annual appointments allow for flexibility. This system can respond to changes in congregational needs, clergy development, and personal circumstances, ensuring that each church receives the pastoral care it requires at any given time.
  3. Alignment of Gifts and Needs: Each year, the bishop and cabinet strive to align the unique gifts and callings of clergy with the specific needs of congregations. This ongoing process helps both pastors and churches to grow and thrive in their ministry together.

Despite the yearly review process, there are key factors that contribute to longer-term pastoral appointments. Here are three vital elements that foster enduring and fruitful partnerships between clergy and congregations:

  1. Missional Match: A successful long-term appointment hinges on a strong alignment between the gifts and graces of the clergy person and the ministry needs of the church. When a pastor’s strengths and passions resonate with a church’s mission and context, the result is a vibrant and dynamic ministry.
  2. Continuous Growth: Both the clergy and the congregation must be committed to ongoing transformation. This includes growing in skills, knowledge, and grace. A church and its pastor should continually seek new ways to learn, serve, and engage with their community, fostering a culture of mutual growth and renewal.
  3. Deepening Ministry: Over time, as relationships deepen and trust builds, the ministry can become more profound and impactful. This involves developing richer connections within the congregation and broader community, and pursuing deeper spiritual and social engagements that make a lasting difference.

As I reflect on our three full years together, I am filled with immense gratitude. We have experienced the joy of missional alignment, where my gifts have met the ministry needs of our beloved church. Together, we have grown in knowledge, skills, and grace, continually transforming as we serve God and our community. And through deepening our ministry, we have created meaningful and lasting impacts within and beyond our church walls.

As I embark on this fourth year with you, I consider it a humble privilege to be part of UMCG’s rich 185-year history. Together, we stand at the threshold of new possibilities, ready to embrace the next chapter of our shared journey. Moreover, this year marks a personal milestone – my 20th year in ministry. It is a blessing to continue this sacred work with such a dedicated and loving congregation.

Thank you for your faithfulness and commitment. Let us move forward with hope and anticipation, trusting that God will continue to guide and bless our ministry together.