One year ago, the much-loved pastor of my local church—Federated Church (UCC/ Disciples) in Chagrin Falls, Ohio—announced his retirement and, in June, we said goodbye.
It wasn't long before I was asked to serve on the pastoral search committee. I attend my church as regularly as possible but my schedule prevents me from serving on many committees. However, serving on this one has reminded me of some very important things. One of these is how important good pastoral leadership is. Times of transition really bring that reality home. I am strongly committed to the ministry of the laity, but strong laity is no substitute for good pastoral leadership.
Pastors serve us in so many ways. They are our primary worship leaders. They share the most joyous times of our lives, and we turn to them during our most difficult and vulnerable ones. We need our pastors to teach and challenge us to look at life through the eyes of the gospel, to call us out of our tendency to be inwardly focused and to continually help us to explore what God is calling us to do.
The search process also has reminded me of the deep commitment of our churches' members. They feel the call of discipleship and want to find ways to actively live that call out in their daily lives. Yes, that passion can lead to some stressful times in committees, particularly since people don't necessarily all believe the same things or want the same things in a pastor. But while differences have the potential to divide, hearing and carefully listening to the voices of all—without the need to abandon personal beliefs and needs—goes a long way in helping to build a sense of community that lasts well beyond the specific task of a given committee.
Most importantly, I have been reminded again to be open to the unexpected winds of the spirit. Again, we know this, but it's easy to get caught up in process. Soon, the work of our search committee will be complete. But I suspect that some of my same experiences are being repeated for many in our churches.
This fall, as we begin the program year, I invite you to join me in thanking and supporting our local church pastors who serve us in countless ways. Join me in engaging each other in difficult discussions about who we are and what we believe and how that impacts how we live our lives. And join me in seeking to be always open to the winds of spirit that, when least expected, can set the predictable and expected aside and simply blow us away!
Edith Guffey is the UCC's associate general minister and a member of the UCC's five-person Collegium of Officers.
Many churches observe October as Clergy Appreciation Month, with the second Sunday of the month, October 10, 2004, set aside as Clergy Appreciation Day.