Texts: Ecclesiastes 3:1-11, Romans 5:1-5
Our church community received surprising and sad news this past week—the resignation of our pastor, Jack McKinney. For nearly ten years Jack has ministered with and among this congregation offering wise leadership, prophetic preaching, and compassionate care to all who walked through our doors. Because of him, we know a bit more about Texas living (okay a lot more), about the crazy things young boys do with their childhood friends, and the value of laughter when talking about serious matters of faith. But above all, throughout these almost ten years, he has in the strongest of Pullen tradition, challenged us to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God. And he has done so first by example and second by being a prophetic voice in our community. Now, with the same authenticity and honesty with which he has pastored us, he shares that it is time for him to leave this work for new adventures and new challenges. For our loss, we are deeply saddened. And for the time that Jack has shared his life and his gifts with us, we are deeply grateful.
When a pastor leaves, it is natural for the church to feel anxiety and loss. As individuals, we grieve the loss of the pastor-parishioner relationship. Pastors stand and sit with us through the most profound times of our lives—in life and death, through covenants made and covenants broken, through all kinds of life questions and transitions. As a church family, we come to depend on the wisdom and vision of a pastor. We count on them to lead us throughout difficult times—whether those are world crises or crises contained within our church family. We trust our pastors with our hopes and dreams, with our disappointments and failures, with our seeking and our knowing. The loss of such a relationship can naturally create feelings of loss and sadness and anxiety. It doesn’t help to ignore such feelings, and we won’t.
It is also natural to ask the question, “What now?” What happens next? And this question is particularly significant for our congregation. Seven years ago, our church decided to try a different model for the pastoral role—we called it the co-pastor model. For seven years now, this church has had two pastors—two pastors with different gifts and abilities sharing the role equally. When we were discussing the co-pastor model the question was asked, “What happens when one of them leaves?” In true Pullen fashion, we decided that we would deal with that when it happened. Now it has happened, and in due time we can trust that we will address the “What happens next?” question. And our guide will be yet another question, “What is best for our church?”
When Edwin McNeill Poteat died an article written in the January 18, 1956 issue of the PullenNews spoke to the anxiety and uncertainty that the church felt. Some wise Pullenite wrote these words, “What now, has been asked. Some have ventured Poteat was Pullen without whom there is no Pullen. It is not necessary in this Newsletter to catalogue the fears and frustrations voiced within and without this congregation of believers. It is possible that we will recoil in despair and hopelessness and slowly, but with inevitable certainty, wither away and be no more. Or, and God willing we can do no other, we can lay hold on a greater faith and walk as no other church has ever walked.”
It is, indeed, our faith that carries us through times of question and transition and uncertainty. In Pullen’s 125-year history there have been many times of transition and uncertainty; and in each one of those times the people of this church have faced those moments with great faith and hope and trust and have walked as no other church has ever walked. We shall do no different in these current times. At the core, our faith is about hope and these times in which we are living calls for us to be people of hope. Right now, more than ever our world needs for us to be people of hope—people who will stand up and fight for the right of every person living in America to be safe, to have food and shelter, to receive proper medical care, and to have the freedom to love and marry whom they choose. Yes, our world needs for us to be people of hope—people who live their lives believing that all people are created equal; people who believe that every single person has the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Our world needs for us to be people of hope!
Our church also needs for us to meet this moment in our history with great faith and hope and trust. In his letter to the Romans, Paul reminds us of the things that lead us to hope. He writes: “…our struggles produce endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us…” Paul’s words remind me of something that a wise person once said to me as I was struggling through a transition in life. She said, “Where you end up is not nearly as important as how you get there.” As we face the question, “What next?” whether in our personal lives or as a church, where we end up is not nearly as important as how we get there. Our history affirms this truth. I have heard it said over and over again by many of you that the process this church engaged in when discussing the holy union issue was just as important as the outcome. It is true…struggle produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us. As people of hope, we have no need to fear or be anxious of our future for hope does not disappoint us.
There is a different way to ask the question, “What now? What’s next?” It is this. Where in our congregation do we sense the stirring of God’s spirit? Where is there energy for risk? Who is asking to be heard? What hungers of the heart are being expressed? What cries, especially muffled ones, do we need to listen for? Usually these are the places where God’s spirit is at work. And when we follow where we sense the stirring of God’s spirit in our midst, we will, indeed, do what is best for our church.
Over the next two months, however, our work is to celebrate with gratitude the ministry of our pastor, Jack McKinney. Over the next three months our work is to celebrate with gratitude the ministry of this church over the past 125 years. Beyond that it will be our work to discern our staffing needs while living out our call to be a people of hope in our world. Let us not lose our way of laying hold on a greater faith and continuing to walk as no other church has ever walked. It is our tradition. And our faith will carry us through these times in which we are living. If we live as people of hope, we will live graciously and gracefully in time—in our times and in all time—for hope does not disappoint us.