Monday, February 18, 2013

The Rockfordphiles

I've been pretty much absent the past couple weeks because something big has been brewing on the homefront.  It's something I couldn't talk about, except in hushed whispers with my wife.  The news was made public yesterday, so now I feel a bit more relaxed about sharing it.

My wife is being appointed Superintendent of the Rockford District of the Northern Illinois Conference of the United Methodist Church.

Like all appointment changes, this is bittersweet.  We've only been here at Cornerstone UMC for three years, very short to say the least.  As with all the churches Lisa has served, we have all come to know and love the people of Cornerstone; they are our church family, people with whom we worship and learn and grow in faith.

At the same time, I am, as usual, excited at the thought of something new for us as a family; a new challenge, with tremendous responsibility, for Lisa; something new, yet familiar (we lived in the Rockford metro area for six years, so we are returning, in a sense, to a place we know well), that will offer all of us challenges and opportunities.

The office of District Superintendent is one of those weird things that's like Topsy in Uncle Tom's Cabin: It just growed.  Once upon a time, many if not most of the circuit riders serving small Methodist congregations were local pastors, not "ordained" yet still called to serve.  In order that order and discipline (a favorite word for we Methodists, you know), a system of presiding elders was created.  These were persons who went through seminary, were ordained, and served not so much as managers or overseers as much as senior clergy, arriving at these small churches to consecrate the elements for communion, to perform the sacrament of baptism, and to perform other duties where they might see a need.

Over the years and decades, as the Methodist clergy became both better educated and more professional, the role of the presiding elder began subtle shifts and changes.  While there is a long section of the Book of Discipline on the Superintendency, the best way for non-United Methodist folks to think about the office is this: Middle Management.

Our is a connectional system; that means that each and every local church is linked to all the others.  These linkages spread out to embrace the whole of the denomination.  At the same time, for many local churches, these links can seem less tangible and concrete, the relationships not only among United Methodists, but even with the Annual Conference of which that church is a part can seem more theoretical than actual.  For many people, the District Superintendent is an embodiment of the connection, the personification of the links among United Methodists, and more specifically from the local church to the Annual Conference.

The District Superintendent has many responsibilities; one thing, however, is missing.  They do not serve a congregation.  For the first time in 19 years of ministry, Lisa will not be working through a sermon each week; she won't be presiding at funerals and weddings; she won't be baptizing or confirming or serving the Lord's Supper with a congregation.  These have been and will continue to be important, vital parts not so much of her "job", but her identity.  I know she is struggling with how that will fit with her new tasks.

So, the packing begins.  As does the whole "saying goodbye" part, with which there is, of course, also a "say hello", although in this case it will be strange.  I would ask that Lisa be remembered in your thoughts as she moves in to this odd and wonderful new ministry opportunity.  I would ask prayers for our family, particularly our children, who are making a move none of us expected, yet dealing with all the emotional back-and-forth and up-and-down that comes with moving.  Finally, a prayer for the United Methodist churches of the Rockford District, whom I believe Lisa will serve with her usual combination of love and deep, abiding faith; their clergy, for whom Lisa will be "the boss", but always one whose first concern is the health of their ministry; and finally a prayer that the mission and ministry of the United Methodist Church - "Making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world" - will live on through the Spirit that gave and gives it life, and that the clergy and members of the Rockford District will come to see and hear in Lisa yet another embodiment of that same Spirit.

And, boy, am I glad I can finally talk about all this!

Virtual Tin Cup

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