By Ward Shope
If you haven’t been keeping up with our pastoral transition, please be aware that the implementation is in full swing. What literally took years of planning is actually happening. Roles that have been Ron’s are beginning to become Anthony’s. And the rest of the staff and the Session are playing roles that we all depended on Ron to either direct or take. Ron shared with the staff yesterday that the reality of this being his last 10 weeks means that none of this is theoretical anymore. His heart feels the change coming.
Perhaps this is what made the annual focus on prayer at the Session Retreat in April so important for the elders. It has always been the pattern of this retreat to spend all of Friday evening and sometimes part of Saturday morning to pray for one another. We can be so busy about the business of church (read “transition”), that we neglect to care for each other personally. When the leadership is praying for and understands each one’s personal joys and struggles, we experience a comfort level that permits diverse opinions while working with one another towards united action. This provides stability in the midst of change.
This year, as we have done in the past, we also prayed for our specific households. We may have missed a few, but almost all of you who are part of our New Life family were prayed for at the retreat. Generally, when there are three or four elders together, one of them knows the specific circumstances of each family. That allows us to pray with understanding, knowing that the Spirit knows even more than we do for the good of that person or household. Again, this is an act of faith that brings stability even when things change.
And they are changing. We are still figuring some things out. The concrete actions of how and when responsibilities are swapped, and what the next year looks like, are still being fine-tuned. We discussed how we can help Ron and Sue as they move into their new role in pastoral care of missionaries with Serge, while we at the same time empower Anthony to take the lead role at New Life. When it gets down to the nitty gritty, we aren’t always sure what is best. Honoring Ron while empowering Anthony is a multifaceted task bound up with grief and excitement, loss and anticipation. Only the Lord is big enough to see us through this.
In the end, Ron provided the Session with a charge for the future (cf Acts 20:17-38), reminding us in numerous ways to “keep the main thing the main thing.” The gospel is at the heart of our DNA. While circumstances, leadership, and even the means of ministry will change, this is the one thing that does not change for us. In mission, in care for one another, in spreading the gospel, the message of God’s grace in Jesus’ death and resurrection always takes center stage.
After we heard from Ron, we gathered around him for prayer and then did the same for Anthony committing them both to God’s direction and care. In the end, this is how we transition by faith. Please continue to pray as we move through the next several months.