Yesterday was my fourth anniversary at St. Paul's, and my fourth anniversary of being a pastor. I find that I'm particularly reflecting on the start of my ministry this year because, as I've mentioned, I am moving September 1 to a new appointment in the Greater New Jersey annual conference.
I've been thinking about how the start of this appointment in Franklin Lakes will be very different from the start of my appointment in Oneida. I'm not a brand new pastor anymore. When I started at St. Paul's, I had been a youth pastor, a ministry intern, and worked at a United Methodist Agency. I had guest-preached a lot. I had been a CPE chaplain. But I'd never been a pastor. I'd never really led a church committee meeting, or filled out statistical tables. I'd never had a staff who primarily reported to me (and the Staff-Parish Relations Committee, of course), I'd never celebrated a baptism and tried to figure out how to hold the baby and the hymnal at the same time. I'd never gotten to bless the communion elements. I'd never had my own office! So many firsts at St. Paul's.
Now, moving to Franklin Lakes, I will have to learn many things, of course. I will learn about the people, and who they are, and how they live and work as disciples. I will learn about their strengths and weaknesses, and I will undoubtedly discover new strengths and weaknesses in myself as I encounter a new, unique setting. But I am already a pastor. I know how to be a pastor, at least on my good days! I am ordained. I have no more probationary covenant group meetings to attend, and Franklin Lakes UMC won't watch me go through the ordination process.
The day before I started at St. Paul's I was overcome with panic - what was I thinking? I didn't know how to be a pastor! How could I go from being just 'me' one day, to being a pastor of a congregation the next? The thought blew my mind. But the next day came, and my extremely gracious and welcoming congregation gave me time and encouragement and let me be their pastor, even if I didn't really know what I was doing.
I'm excited about heading to Franklin Lakes, even though making this move has me anxious and nervous in different ways. But I'm excited, and in part, I'm excited because I will start this appointment with more knowledge and experience than before, and I'm hoping that experience will serve me well.
Four years. I find it hard to believe. Seminary seems like just yesterday to me. But now I've been out of seminary longer than I was in seminary. I can't imagine what it feels like for pastors who have been at congregations ten, fifteen, or twenty years. But as I look around at the people at St. Paul's, I can't believe the changes that have taken place in four years. Children who have been born since I began, or who have gone from teen to adult, or who have gotten married. Parishioners who have died. New families who have joined, and families who have moved away. It has been a full four years.