The United Methodist Church has a system where pastors in local churches are appointed by the bishop. This saves a congregation from having to deal with an interim pastor while working out what kind of replacement to call. The flip side is our pastors tend to stay less than a decade in one spot.
This year our beloved Pastor Jeff was asked to move on. He had been at the church only seven years (I knew him for two) and because of the great job hew as doing we assumed he would be with us a few more. But the bishop called him last March with an offer of a move (he knew that it would be a really good idea to take it). So through May and June he gave a series of sermons to emphasize the basic messages he had developed with us. The first of the series was, "All means all." When this church says it welcomes all, it really does mean all.
Two weeks ago we said goodbye to Pastor Jeff. We set an attendance record of over 350 people. Last Sunday we had a guest preacher, a retired pastor who has been attending (and had been a mentor to Pastor Jeff).
And today we welcomed Pastor Ben. He'll do just fine. He got a laugh when he told the story of the personal turmoil he went through ten years ago – as a senior in high school – trying to decide what his direction in life should be. Yes, he is that young.
As part of introducing the new guy and his wife to the congregation the leadership team presented them with a few gifts, such as a gift certificate to the diner that has become an extension of the church (I think that's where the men's Bible study meets).
And a gift for Pastor Ben that I thought was very wise and meaningful – a pair of shoes. The leadership explained, "We don't want you to try to fill Pastor Jeff's shoes. You have your own shoes to fill." I appreciated this gift because at my previous church many members grumbled when a new pastor didn't try to fill the previous pastor's shoes. I'm delighted the church leadership understands that and used a powerful symbol to tell both the new pastor and the rest of the congregation (though I doubt this church will do much grumbling).