For 32 out of the nearly 37 years I have served in ordained ministry in the UCC, I have been a local church pastor. Being a pastor is what I know, and it is where my heart is.
One time prior to this one, I accepted a call to serve on the denominational staff, but after several years I missed the local church so much that I returned to it.
Congregations that I have been in ministry with will need to make the call about whether or not I have been a good local church pastor. But I do know that being a local church pastor has been good for me.
So why have I accepted the call to serve as the Acting Executive Minister for Local Church Ministries? It is a question my wife, children, colleagues and friends have all posed in one form or another. Some even questioned my sanity! The question of call is a question I still hold in my heart and spirit. Time will tell if it is indeed the call of the Holy Spirit.
But for now, it feels right. And it feels right for several reasons.
I have served in congregations from both the UCC's Congregational Christian and Evangelical and Reformed traditions. And I have served churches that have only known the UCC.
I have been on a church staff, head of a church staff, and been the church staff. I have served new churches and old churches, suburban churches and urban churches, small town churches and churches in major metropolitan areas.
I have served in Conference and Association leadership and, for a brief time as an Interim Conference Minister, I enjoyed being in the community of Conference Ministers.
My experience does not cover every setting of our local churches in the UCC, but it is broad and diverse. I bring all of this to my call to serve in the national setting, and I bring my experiences to my call to serve Local Church Ministries.
I have come to understand that we are ministering in exciting, challenging and changing times. We must keep our excitement as we confront the challenges and discern the ways we are called to change. Local churches have been engaged in this discernment for many years. The national setting is trying to catch up. For these reasons, this call feels right.
But there is one overarching reason that I have felt called to this ministry. It is about the local church.
My job description has all the usual items for a church executive. Most importantly, however, it includes the call to be a spokesperson and advocate for local churches of the UCC. In this way, I am still called to serve the local church!
I accept this call with honor and humility. I seek your prayers and support, even as I offer mine to you.
The Rev. Stephen L. Sterner was elected Acting Executive Minister of Local Church Ministries in October to fulfill the unexpired term of the Rev. Jose A. Malayang, who retired at the end of the year. At its upcoming April meeting, the UCC's Executive Council will consider his election as a member of the UCC's five-person Collegium of Officers.