Charge to the Congregation

Charge to the Congregation

Note: The following is the charge to the congregation I gave during Pastor Mindy’s installation on Sun, 30 Nov (with the parts I left out when I lost my train of thought) –Jim

I was honored when Mindy asked me to take this part in her installation. I’ve been to many installations over the years due in part to my tenure on the Association Department for Church and Authorized Ministry (DCAM).  In fact, the liturgy of installation that we just completed was my final act as outgoing chair of DCAM. I’ve attended installations of friends, I’ve attended and participated in installations as part of DCAM, I’ve attended installations as a member of the calling congregation, and I’ve attended installations as a member of the search committee that called the candidate. This one, though, is unique for me. This is the first time I’ve attended and participated in an installation wearing all four of those hats. As I stated during the liturgy, installation is an affirmation by the Association of what we call in UCC jargon a 3-way covenant. That is important. This isn’t just an agreement or a contract with an employee this is a covenant, a promise before God to be in relationship and mutual accountability, I’ll come back to some of that in a moment. Note, also, that it is a 3-way covenant, not just between Mindy and Grace UCC, but also with the Central Southeast Association as the representatives of the wider church, all under the blessing and oversight of God. The Association’s responsibilities include providing professional oversight of Mindy, and sharing in and supporting our ministry in the community and in the world. In a few moments, Dave will give the charge to Mindy, but my role here today is to talk to my fellow members of Grace Church about our responsibility in this covenant.

So, what do we, as the congregation, need to know about this new adventure we’re all embarking on with Mindy. First, as I mentioned, this covenant is about relationship and accountability. The Association takes its oversight responsibility very seriously, so Mindy will be required to attend periodic support consultations every 3 years, both phases of boundary training every 5 years, and other continuing education-type activities, but there is no boundary training for congregations, though we’ve actually talked about that in the Department at various times over the years. So, my first charge to my fellow members of Grace Church, is to respect Mindy’s boundaries. Mindy was called to be our pastor and teacher and, as such, she will be with us during good times and bad, but she is also a human being with a family that is very important to her and other responsibilities. In order to give us her best, she needs her time to recharge, to take care of herself and her family. Having grown up in a parsonage as a PK (a preacher’s kid) and seeing the stresses as well as the blessings that a pastor receives from a congregation, I urge you to respect Mindy’s downtime and days off. If it can wait until morning, let it wait. If it can wait until Monday, let her have her Fridays because she is working on Sunday and let it wait until Monday. Of course, if it is an emergency, if you or a loved one are in the hospital let her know she wants to be there for and with us, but give her the time for herself that you would expect for yourself. Being on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year is difficult, it is draining, it isn’t that we have a right to expect. For Mindy to give her best to us, she needs her space. Understand that because of the confidences she needs to keep and the pastoral role in the congregation, she will also seek friendships and a support system outside the congregation. This is a good thing and we should encourage and support it.

My second charge to us as the congregation is to trust and respect Mindy’s vision and leadership. She has travelled a path of calling, testing, and sacrifice to be in ministry. Face it, one doesn’t go into the ministry for the money. No one gets a Master’s degree to earn what churches pay. She went to seminary and into the ministry because God wouldn’t let her do anything else, even though for a time she tried. She has followed this calling for more than a quarter century. She has studied the Word more than any of us in the congregation has, but would be the first to admit she doesn’t have all the answers. Her vision may be different from yours or mine, but that’s okay, we’ll work it out. She has dreams for us as a congregation, not the least of which is that we learn to live out the core values we profess, but that doesn’t mean that we have to follow her dreams. Some have asked Mindy why she would want to come here, to Grace Church. Well some of us sitting in the pews don’t really realize how much Grace Church has going for it. Mindy does. She sees it and she wants to help us see it. As you are already aware, she has a passion for justice because Jesus called us to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, and welcome the stranger (as we just heard from Matthew), so expect her to challenge us to do all of these things.

My third charge is to understand that Mindy’s job is not to make us happy or feel good about ourselves. Mindy’s job is to be a shepherd. To poke and prod and sometimes say things that will make us uncomfortable to get us to think, to get us to pray. Sometimes she’ll be out front, sometimes she’ll be in the background, poking and prodding us, and helping us to develop our gifts, so that we can lead. That’s okay. That’s good. Her role is to challenge us and lead us toward a closer relationship with God. Her job is to be a shepherd and herd us toward Christ. Understand that there will be change and that is to be expected. There is always change. If there is no change, we are dead. Change can be scary, but change is necessary. The purpose of change though, is not simply to change, but to lead us toward a closer relationship with God. Keep an open mind and ask this question about everything we do, “Does this change or structure or activity enhance our ability to do ministry or help us to bring the Good News to Lancaster?” If so, let’s try it, if not, then we probably should discard it.

And finally, I charge us to pray for Mindy. Not just the generic “Thank you for my family and friends, oh, and Pastor Mindy.” No, I mean pray for her as she will undoubtedly pray for us. While this is a big change for us, remember, this is a big change for Mindy, too. She’s moving to a new city, she’s soon to have an empty nest. This is a lot of change. Pray for strength because pastoral ministry can be a difficult and lonely position. Pray for Mindy’s soul, pray that she continues to grow in knowledge and understanding and the love of Christ.

These are our responsibilities as members of Grace Church and with God’s help we can all be a blessing to Fairfield County. Thanks be to God.