xmlns:og='http://ogp.me/ns#' The Mid-Week Message: How Our Relationship Will Change

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

How Our Relationship Will Change

June 9, 2015

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

Since this is the second-to-last Mid-Week Message before my departure as your pastor, I thought I would spend some time reflecting with you on how our relationship will change after July 1.

Many of you know that an essential character of our denomination is the itinerant ministry. While changes in clergy leadership are inevitable, we are fortunate to be in a system in which pastoral succession occurs efficiently, without extensive interim periods or gaps in pastoral coverage.

What that means is that as quickly you all will say good bye to me, you will be greeting your new pastor.  June 21 will be my last Sunday, and Rev. Cris Decious will preach starting July 5. There are many benefits to such a rapid transition, but it does become incumbent on the congregation and the outgoing pastor to make appropriate space and time for grieving and discovering what their forthcoming relationship will be like. 

So that’s what I’m hoping to create with today’s Mid-Week Message. I offer you the following guidelines, which have been written in consultation with the Staff-Parish Relations Committee, incoming pastor Cris Decious, and District Superintendent Tom Carver.  They have read this statement and support how it will guide us into an understanding of our new relationship together.  I realize that many of you in this congregation have gone through pastoral transitions in the past, and I am grateful for the healthy relationships you continue to maintain with prior pastors. Nonetheless, the process of writing this statement and sharing it with you is a beneficial exercise during this time of change. 

What will it mean for me to no longer be your pastor?
Simply put, it means that I will be released from the responsibility of preaching, leading, and providing pastoral care for this congregation. It will no longer be appropriate for me to do weddings and funerals at St. Paul’s, and I will not be involved with the future direction of this church. In other words, when pastoral matters arise among you, there is no expectation that I will be involved in it. And when major decisions are to be made regarding the church’s future, I will in no way be a part of these discussions.

Does that mean that any communications with me are inappropriate?
Though I will no longer be your pastor, we will continue to be brothers and sisters in Christ. As part of Christ’s body, we will still be responsible for rejoicing in each other’s triumphs, and bearing each other’s burdens. I welcome updates on how you and your family are doing, just as I know you would welcome such news from me. But here are some guidelines for discerning what news to share with me.  1) Make sure that your new pastor already knows the news you would share with me; 2) Make sure that the news is of a public nature and already available for general knowledge; 3) Make sure that the news is not of a confidential nature, such that it would best be kept in the context of a pastor-parishioner relationship. If those three criteria are met, then I am open to sharing with you the births, deaths, weddings, and critical life-stage moments that make life so rich and compelling.  Simply remember that there should be no expectation that I will respond to you as anything more than a fellow brother in Christ.

Do I want to hear “how things are going at the church?”
Naturally, St. Paul’s will always have a special place in my heart, and I will be praying for God’s spirit to be leading you into what I know will be a bright, faithful future. Hearing details about what God is doing in and through St. Paul’s would certainly guide my prayers toward specificity.  But again, I would ask you to use the following criteria in discerning what kinds of church news to share with me: 1) Have you, for whatever reason, refrained from sharing this news, or your opinions regarding the news, with the new pastor? 2) Are you seeking my opinion or feedback regarding this news? 3) Are you sharing this news with me simply to draw a contrast between how things were done under my leadership?  If the answer to any of those questions is yes, then it is truly wisest to refrain from sharing with me any news about what is happening at the church.

How does Facebook figure into our new relationship?
There are many schools of thought on how Facebook plays a role in pastoral ministry.  Some pastors have a personal policy not to “friend” parishioners under any circumstances. Others choose to “unfriend” parishioners once they leave the church. And the remainder choose to keep things the same. 

I am Facebook friends with many of you, and have enjoyed interacting with you through it. We often use it to share with others a glimpse into our personal and family lives, and I have used it to showcase and celebrate the ministries of St. Paul’s. I am reminded that since its inception, the founders of Facebook have encouraged a primarily positive interaction among its users, which is why it has been reluctant to institute a “Dislike” button for its posts.  As a result, we must remember that the persona we project via Facebook is often a mere one-dimensional, largely optimistic rendering of how things are actually going.  Therefore, to say you have a Facebook “friend” is quite different from the kinds of intimate, deep “friendships” you might have with a person face to face.

Because our “virtual” relationships will never be a suitable substitute for genuine personal interactions, and must never rise to the level of relationships you develop with your pastor and others in the church, I see no need to “unfriend” any of you who are currently “friends” with me on Facebook. You will begin to notice that after my departure, many of my posts will primarily be about the establishment of my new life and ministry in Tampa. And again, because of the nature of Facebook, most of them will be largely positive. Please know that those posts will never be meant to denigrate the fruitful, beautiful time we have shared together.

What will be my relationship with the new pastor?
All clergy in the United Methodist Church are ordained into a covenantal communion, in which we support each other as colleagues in Christ. It is incumbent on me, as the outgoing pastor, to ensure that the systems of the church are in suitable order to transfer to Rev. Cris Decious upon his arrival, and there will be ample opportunities for us to work together to ensure a smooth and proper transition. I expect that the details of that transition will be largely dictated by his needs, and that perhaps those questions will continue after my departure.  So, Cris and I will likely be in conversation together periodically over the months to follow, but they will mostly be prompted by his initiative to contact me, rather than my intrusion into his work. The bottom line is that I will do everything I can to ensure his successful start as your new pastor, and I will be available to him for whatever he needs.

Your future is bright.
One of the things I was most grateful for shortly after my arrival as your pastor eight years ago is that there was very little, if any, talk of how previous pastors used to do things. I never felt, even for an instant, that I was living in the shadow of a prior minister, and the fact that you welcomed my leadership and my ideas so warmly and openly is a testament to the amazing hospitality of this congregation.  I can’t even say that I’ve ever heard any of you tell me, “Well, pastor, that’s not the way we used to do things around here.”

I’m grateful to think that that same spirit of genuine love and openness will be afforded to Cris and Jennifer Decious and their family. I am absolutely convinced that the Spirit of God will continue to work among you, and that the future of St. Paul’s UMC and the people of Cherokee is a bright one indeed.

Grace and Peace,


The Rev. Magrey R. deVega
St. Paul's United Methodist Church
531 W. Main St.
Cherokee, IA  51012
Ph:  712-225-3955

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