When I told one of my aunts—who was reared a Christian and did not become a United Methodist until her marriage—that I felt called to ministry, she blessed me and then smiled at me and said, “Lord, Honey, you’ll always have to be movin’on.”
I knew she meant sharing in the appointive system: itinerating in its formal name. This week many folks are movin‘on within The Capital District and across The NC Conference. Movin’on has taught me a lot. While we keep all those folks itinerating this week—the pastoral families, the churches experiencing transitions, and the pastors—in our prayers, I wanted to share what I’ve learned from movin’on.
Itineracy has demands. Not all pastors and pastors’ families are able to accept its demands at all seasons and we, as a church, need to be supportive of that reality. Hence there are a variety of pastoral leaves and many accommodations to make when appointments are made. Churches are sometimes surprised or frustrated by a change of appointment they did not expect. We should pray for all those involved in such moments. I frankly admire and I’m always inspired by the devotion to Christ and willingness to serve that I see over and over again in our pastoral households, as well as, in our churches and clergy.
That’s itineracy’s first blessing for me. Wesley taught us that we should pray “Put me where Thou wilt.” Lord have mercy. That’s frightening. But through itineracy we are open to the Spirit and see wonderful things happen. We witness to a world that is very devoted to individual goals and personalized agenda that there is a higher purpose, a higher calling. That witness is something to celebrate!
The way we move (or itinerate) witnesses to what The Apostle Paul taught us about the Church: we are connected. We are licensed or ordained by an annual conference; we serve across that conference, or perhaps in another, but we always share our ministry in common. The healthiness of a local church remembering—indeed living out that it is a part of something bigger—as it releases and receives pastors is a strong lesson in what it is to be connected to other congregations.
Frankly, itinerating has taught me to see myself in a better light. I could never have done many of the things that my predecessors at the churches I’ve been blessed to serve did. I certainly couldn’t do what my successors have done. That’s not false modesty. Paul pointed out, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. . . .For we are God’s servants, working together.” (I Corinthians 3:6-7, 9a) Itinerating reminds us that we who are licensed and ordained share a common ministry with each other and with the baptized in each church we serve. Itineracy lets us share gifts.
Another strong lesson that itineracy has taught me is how to hold onto and how to let go of a lot of things. I have no desire to move but so many boxes. But far more importantly, there is the question of holding on to people and places that have marked my life. I have always choked up when I left people I love. I grew up in one house, lived near extended family, and, up until my young adulthood supposed that might be my life too. But no one holds onto anyone or anything. That is not the way God’s created order evolves. Itineracy is a deep spiritual lesson for me. Hold on deeply but lightly to what passes away; hold on with trust and firmness to Christ.
I have also seen itineracy help resolve pain. We have a way to help churches and pastors whose season of ministry together has concluded come to recognize that fact, and, hopefully with open grace, receive new opportunities. All this part of moving on sometimes feels very unspiritual—and can be when racism, sexism, or pettiness comes into play—but moving on and addressing the issues at hand can be healing and life-giving.
Movin’on has always been a gift to me: a time to receive the gift of becoming a part of a community where I have loved life and been blessed to serve. In fairness to my aunt, right after she told me I would have to get “used to movin’on” she added “and if you follow God, it will be a blessing”. She was right.
May it be so for our friends who are movin’on this week.
Loving God, as Jesus moved about to fulfill his ministry, so many of your disciples are moving on this week. Bless them; console them; excite them; assure them; lead them; inspire them. Where there are tears, give peace; where, promise, joy. Give those who love them patience and humor. Give the churches who know these changes openness and receptivity. Teach us by the life of your Church what it is to follow and to trust in you. All this we ask in the Name of the One who made us your Church, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Grace and peace,