Wednesday, February 12, 2014

some things stay the same

A few weekends ago I served as a chaperone for one of our senior high youth events at a retreat center in central Virginia. It is one of the many youth trips I’ve had the pleasure of attending over the past five years in my role as Associate Pastor at this congregation. The following is a portion of a letter I wrote after the event to the parents of the youth group now that I begin a transition into a new role in the congregation:

My new call as senior pastor will undoubtedly change the amount of time in which I interact with the youth group at Epiphany. In the short term, I will still be fairly involved in the programs, but eventually I will step back as we call a new associate pastor and adjust staff responsibilities. However, I will not disengage from the youth group (and going to youth events) entirely. A desire from the congregation for me to have regular contact with youth ministry is something I heard loud-and-clear in the call process for senior pastor and also read in the survey results. I hope to work with a new associate pastor in new ways that allow us both to have a hand in shaping youth ministry, which is not limited to the youth group. It also includes confirmation and the other ways youth are active in the life of our congregation. In addition, the creativity and commitment from our cadre of Timothy Ministers will be invaluable as all this begins to take shape.

I guess it goes without saying that change is afoot. But, really, when you stop and think about it, isn’t the church always changing? Seniors graduate, middle schoolers become new high schoolers, elementary school students become new middle schoolers. Pastors leave and new pastors are called. Families move away; new families join. And, of course, there are deaths and there are births. But the changes that the church experiences are not primarily due to life cycles and school schedules. To be honest, the Holy Spirit is the true agent of change. The Spirit is always moving among the church, bringing about new ministries, new possibilities, new strengths and new ways to witness to the power of the cross. This change can be invigorating, but it can also be a little frightening at times. 

This weekend, as I looked out at the rows of youth swaying to the rhythms of the worship songs, I was momentarily struck by all this change and motion. I’d seen it dozens of times before, their arms all linked across each other’s shoulders and drifting back and forth like waves in the sea, but this time it seemed to symbolize the great shifting in my own vocational life. I felt almost adrift. Then, in the midst of all this my eyes wandered over to the stage. I noticed that standing middle of it all—still and very solid—was the altar of the Lord, set with the bread and wine for our worship. It was a moment of peace and realization for me: in the midst of whatever God’s people face, Christ will provide stability. There, in the midst of all our comings and goings—in the midst of all our hello-ing and goodbye-ing, our readjustments and reassignments and, of course, our living and dying—will be Jesus. Always. Constant. A Mighty Fortress. “Though the waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging” (Psalm 46). This is good. This where my hope needs to rest. Not with me or with any particular role or set of gifts I think I may have or anyone else has. The change brought about by the Holy Spirit is always anchored in the real presence of Christ. [And any metaphorical relationship that Scripture bears to spending a weekend with 300 energetic youth on an icy mountain is completely unintentional, by the way].

All this is to say that I am thankful for the 5 years I’ve been the associate pastor at Epiphany Lutheran Church and I’m so grateful I’ve been extended the call to serve for many more! I am most thankful for that constant presence of Christ I have found among you.


Physics lady said...

This is one aspect of ministry that your church does much better than our church. We essentially have no close pastoral involvement with youth ministry!

Andy Ballentine said...

Why don't you reconfigure the ministry areas so you're still the pastor primarily involved in youth ministry? (Give up something that's traditionally done by the "Senior Pastor?")