It’s appointment season in The United Methodist Church.
From now until June, you’re bound to see social media posts from pastors thanking God for their time at their church. The bishop, they’ll say, has appointed them to a new church. As United Methodists Christians with Facebook accounts, it’s something we’re used to seeing. I know I check our conference’s website to make sure my name doesn’t pop up as one who is moving!
All that to say, that I’ve been reflecting on pastoral appointments.
There’s a first conversation I dread having at a new church. It’s one I’ve had at every church I’ve served. To be sure, I don’t initiate it. There are many things I want to talk about, but this isn’t one I enjoy hearing.
I call it the “Let me tell you what happened” talk.
All relationships have difficulties. Marriages do. Families struggle with one another all the time. Work relationships have difficulties. Sometimes, it’s even hard to get along with the cashier at the grocery store.
And even church families have rifts.
When a new pastor comes along, she doesn’t know what’s happened between members. Or he doesn’t realize how long it’s been since feelings were first hurt. So, somebody has to fill them in with the juicy details, right?
Sometimes, the conversation is necessary. I don’t want to give you the impression I don’t care how people have hurt one another. I do. That’s a part of a congregation’s story. I’m not pretending there isn’t any friction among members.
A lot of it is petty, though.
And I don’t do petty all that well. Maybe that’s a growing edge for me.
Remember that time Moses struck the rock twice? Water came out for the people and their livestock to drink. No sooner had everyone had a drink, Moses lost his chance to see the promised land.
When we study that story from Numbers 20 we tend to look at the anger of Moses. But what if Moses wasn’t only angry? There’s an idea that begs us to ask, what if he was grieving?
Read the story again.
In one sentence, Miriam, Moses’ sister dies. In the next sentence, the people rally against Moses and Aaron.
Let’s assume the story reads that way on purpose.
If so, the people hurt Moses. They didn’t mourn his sister or acknowledge what her death meant to him. They were much too concerned about their well-being. They worried more about their livestock.
If I were a new pastor to that congregation, I’d want to know about a story like that.
The real pain a church has experienced together will show. That’s what needs to be addressed. Not that a new pastor is coming to save the day. Some might think that’s their job. That kind of mindset can add to the damage already done. Sometimes, though, new eyes can see healing others cannot. Someone who hasn’t been fighting as long can help bridge the restoration of relationships.
That’s a virtue of the church, after all. It’s good when we live in unity. We can’t do that if we’re too busy hurting one another. There are real steps to healing. Real steps. Hard steps. Sometimes, real hard steps.
No pastor wants their congregation to live in disunity because we’ve brushed our pain under the rug. Who do you need to forgive in church? What stories do we need to acknowledge?
Let’s seek reconciliation together.