Dear Partners in Ministry,
I remember it as clearly as if it happened yesterday. I was walking home after the last day of second grade. There was such excitement as the realization sank in that summer vacation had begun. The kids around me were giddy with excitement. I, on the other hand, was having a hard time walking away from that last day, which was filled with goodbyes, and into the future of summer freedom. I was sad at the thought that I was leaving behind my teacher, Mrs. Duff, and I was uneasy at the thought that my life was changing, never to be exactly the same. Third grade was a long way off and there I was experiencing what I later understood to be a “transition”.
Transitions are like that, filled with mixed feelings: the melancholy, at leaving familiar things and people behind and the anticipation, with its mixture of apprehension and excitement, at the possibilities ahead.
We’ve all been there multiple times. Whether it was a transition from elementary school to middle school, high school to the larger world, from single to married life, from pregnancy to parenthood, from a house full of children to an empty nest, from an old job to a new job or worse, unemployment, from health to chronic illness, or from one’s life’s work to retirement - life is full of transitions and the changes they bring.
We can and often do live out our daily lives in denial that life is filled with an endless stream of transitions. We convince ourselves that, at a certain point in our life’s journey, major transitions will be behind us and there will be nothing but smooth, familiar sailing ahead.
As a former amateur sailor, sailing doesn’t work that way, as winds often change direction and storms spring up suddenly. Life doesn’t work that way, either. Transitions, and the changes they bring, are always just around the corner, until that time arrives when we face the greatest transition of all and walk with our Lord through the gate of death to eternal life.
That’s why I love all of the biblical stories of God’s faithful people as they faced transitions: Abram and Sarai, Joseph and his brothers, Moses and Joshua, Ruth, Naomi and Esther, David and Solomon, Mary and Joseph, Jesus at his baptism and the disciples awaiting the coming of the Holy Spirit.
That last example has always held a certain fascination for me. It’s the story that we recall every year on the 7th Sunday of Easter. That Sunday is a day of transition, sitting as it does between the events of Jesus’ ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
There sit the followers of Jesus. They’ve experienced the risen presence of Jesus and, after watching him disappear from their sight, they are left with one instruction; to wait in Jerusalem for the promised Holy Spirit. All 120 of them are in a state of transition with nothing but Jesus’ promise to go on. It wasn’t easy for them. For one thing they were hanging out in hostile territory. Peter, feeling the need to provide some direction and leadership, had them carry out an election to replace Judas. Then, together, they hung in there and faithfully waited, with prayer and thanksgiving, until Jesus’ promise was fulfilled in spectacular fashion, on Pentecost.
Now, you and I are about to move through an important transition in our PLUM ministry. From the early days of PLUM, we pastors have considered the process of transitioning the pastoral team as an additional benefit of our cooperative ministry. Pastoral vacancies are hard enough for larger congregations to endure but, for small congregations, they are especially difficult. Having a pastoral team meant that the turnover of pastors could happen in rotation so as to insure there would always be familiar faces to provide pastoral care.
As of July 1st, I will be the first pastor to transition off the team as I begin my retirement and head to my new home in Erie, PA. I am happy to report that, with the support and recommendation of Bishop Kusserow and his staff, we are adding a new full-time pastor, the Rev. Jocelyn Johnston, to the team as a Transitional Interim Pastor. Pastor Johnston is excited about working with PLUM and will come on board in June, so that you can begin to get to know her. Initially, she will have a “contractual call” with PLUM, which provides the option of receiving a permanent, full-time call in the future. We are very pleased by the ongoing presence of our Minister-in-Training, Brenda Henry, who will be busy this summer, completing her Clinical Pastoral Education requirement for ordination and then will rejoin the worship rotation in August, as she begins her internship. Also, we are looking forward to Seminarian Susan Devine starting her internship with PLUM in January 2019. The future looks bright!
However, as with all transitions, this one is bittersweet. I will miss all of you, and our ministry together, but I know I am leaving you in the good hands of Pastors John, Melba, Jocelyn and Paul. So, as we move through this time of transition, I, to retirement, and you, to a reconfiguration of your pastoral team, let us, with thanksgiving, pray for one another. And, keep in mind those disciples in the upper room, waiting with prayer and thanksgiving for the promised Holy Spirit to make an appearance. Unlike them, we have the guiding and empowering presence of the Holy Spirit to see us through.
It’s true, my friends. Transitions aren’t easy, but rest assured; God’s hand prints are all over this one!
Grace and peace,
Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church of Sheraden, 3102 Sherwood Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15204 412-331-0600