Perhaps all of you feel a little bit like I do today. A mixture of things. Excited and anxious. Anticipating and wondering. Ready for change, but thinking about things that have been left behind. Heart full of good-byes and hellos. The time between when you found out Pastor Clair would be leaving here, and when Penny and I found out we would be leaving our last congregations and coming here to you has flown by, and here we are, at the beginning of this new stage in our faith journey. This is an extremely significant time of transition for all of us, and we are all wondering what the future will hold. It’s a lot to take in! I know you all are no strangers to change and transition, and as United Methodist pastors, Penny and I aren’t either. The question is: where do we find God calling to us in the midst of the constant of change?
Pastor Penny and I are so excited to be here with you today, to be joining you, as we seek, together, to hear God’s call and respond in faithful action. We have been and will be planning and preparing, and we are ready to get started! Penny and I have the benefit of having served together already – we both spent time in ministry at Liverpool First United Methodist Church. We’ve both served large congregations and smaller congregations. I’ve served churches that are congregations born of the combination of previous congregations, too. So some things are familiar to us. But many things are new. Penny and I have never served together in quite this exact way before. I've never served “part-time” before, and have to figure out what that looks like. You’ve never had two pastors at once before. And, we’ve never been in ministry together before. We don’t know exactly what this will look like yet. We plan to watch and listen and get to know you as we figure out how best to use our time and gifts and talents here.
Today we wanted to introduce ourselves to you, and tell you a bit about what has brought us to this place and this time, about who we are, and what we’re excited about. I grew up in Westernville, a little country town between Rome and Boonville, and then moved to Rome, NY. I have a large extended family, almost all of whom live in Central New York, which is such a blessing to me. My younger brother Tim lives in Rome still. My oldest brother Jim and his wife Jennifer and seven year old son Sam, who you will hear a lot about, live in Minoa. They also have a little girl on the way, due to arrive in September, so I will get to add stories about my niece to my repertoire very soon. My youngest brother Todd is a professional actor who is currently working on his MFA at Purdue in Indiana. You’ll probably get to meet him on Christmas Eve, as I usually enlist him to perform some dramatic monologues in worship.
I think God was always luring me towards being a pastor. I come from a family of pastors – two uncles, and two great uncles were United Methodist pastors, including my uncle Bill Mudge, who is District Superintendent of the Adirondack District in our conference, and my great uncle Baden Mudge, who served several churches in the Syracuse area. And I grew up attending a small country church in Westernville that had a lot of female pastors – I never knew some people found female pastors unusual – it was just how it was in my young experience! Actually, in my short acquaintance with Apple Valley so far, this place reminds me so much of my childhood church in powerful ways. My mother instilled in my brothers and me a deep sense that we are all called by God for some purpose – and it is our life’s work to figure out what that call is and how we can respond to it. So I was in the practice of listening for God’s voice, God’s direction, at a young age. I grew up attending one of our church camps, Camp Aldersgate, every summer, and for a while, I believed I was called into camping ministry, because that was where I felt closest to God. At camp is still a place I feel especially close to God.
But I have always needed to feel “settled” with decisions, at peace with them, to know that I heard God as accurately as I can. And I knew I hadn’t found the right spot yet. I started to become involved with youth ministry. Of course, I was a youth myself at the time, but I loved planning and preparing youth events, and I felt like maybe I had found my calling this time. But still, God was nudging me. Somewhere between applying for and beginning college, I realized God was calling me to pastoral ministry. I can’t pinpoint a specific date or time when I knew for sure, just God’s persistent tugging at me until I got the picture.
I attended Ohio Wesleyan for my undergraduate work in pre-theology, and then went to seminary at Drew Theological School in New Jersey. I was commissioned in 2003 and ordained in 2006. I’ve remained passionate about my early loves – I still stay involved with camping ministries, and have spent eleven years now working with our Conference Council on Youth Ministries, CCYM. I love theatre and music, and have been grateful for how God has allowed me to use these gifts in my ministry. I have a love for social justice ministry – mission and outreach and service to those in the greatest need, those on the fringes, those who Jesus was always bringing to the center. In May, I completed my Doctor of Ministry at the Methodist Theological School in Ohio in the area of Leadership for Transformational Change, and in particular, I focused my writing on how a congregation’s outreach ministry can move from being charity-focused to justice-focused. God is still calling, always calling, and I continue to listen for God’s voice. I’ve served congregations in Oneida, in Franklin Lakes, New Jersey, East Syracuse, Liverpool, and now, God has called us together in this place. That’s a bit about my path. As some of you know, I’m here quarter time with Pastor Penny because I’ve been feeling again God’s call on my life, and I’m looking at what ministry paths I can take in addition to this local church ministry that will especially allow me to build on the social justice work I focused on in my doctoral program. It’s another transition in my life, and I’ll admit to you that I find the uncertainty a bit scary. But I’m determined to listen and follow as best as I can for God’s voice, leading me.
In the weeks and months ahead, we will want to hear about your path – your personal journey, your family, the path this congregation has taken. Your District Superintendent speaks very highly of you as a congregation, especially of how well you have handled transitions, and your reputation for being a warm and welcoming congregation where all people are welcome to come and learn about our God of love and grace. That makes me so excited to be your pastor, and I’m excited to see where God will lead all of us together.
Today, I chose John 10:1-10, one of my favorite passages of scripture, to share with you. I love this whole chapter of scripture, but my favorite verse is John 10:10: Jesus says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” This verse caught my eye when I was in tenth grade, and reading the scriptures, and it just stuck with me. In a world that often paints Christianity as a list of thou-shalt-nots, when we Christians often let ourselves be boiled down to things you shouldn’t be doing, I was just fascinated that what Jesus said he wanted for us was abundant life. Abundance! Life that is full and rich and meaningful and complete, not a life where we feel restricted and limited and deprived. What God has in mind for us is that we find that our lives are overflowing with goodness and promise, that we have so much that we can’t begin to run out of ways to use and serve and love with the gifts we’ve been given. God wants us to have it all! Abundant life.
In challenging times, it is so easy for us to focus on what we don’t have, what we think we don’t have enough of. And it is so easy to try to fill up our lives with our own efforts, trying to fill an emptiness with a lot of stuff that has nothing much to do with God. We don’t need to. Jesus promises us all the abundance we could desire. God wants us to have it all. The catch? Of course, God wants us to give it all too. We get abundant life. God always gives us more. And as much as we have been following God, on the various paths we have taken to arrive here today, God is always going to call us further down the path. God is always read to give more and ask more.
Friends, my hope is that we will learn to look in our hands, look in our lives, look in this congregation and community and recognize all the abundant life God has poured out on us. And then, I hope we will listen. God is calling us still, farther on. Let’s go together, and find out what God has in store.