United Methodist elders are itinerant. Even though wikipedia lists itinerant alongside words such as vagabond, hobo, and vagrant, we United Methodist elders generally use it to describe the way we are called upon from time to time to move within the denomination from one place of service to another. This generally happens at Annual Conference, but this isn’t always the case.
Over the last few weeks, my life has been a whirlwind after learning that I am receiving a new pastoral assignment. In mid-October, I will become the Minister of Discipleship at Church of the Servant United Methodist Church in Oklahoma City. This is our first pastoral move as a family, so in a way we’re new to the actual experience of itinerancy. Even though we’ve always known that United Methodist elders eventually move, it’s still strange to feel the excitement of new opportunities for service, ministry and relationships while at the same time feeling sadness over leaving wonderful relationships, ministries, and places of service. All in all, I am just happy that we are now able to talk openly about this big change in our lives.
This shift, and the question of what awaits ahead, reminds me of a story I heard many times growing up. A long time ago, a man rode into a small town on horseback. He came up to the first person he saw, an old man sitting on his porch, and asked, “What are the people like here in this town?” The old man leaned back on his chair, looked off into the distance, and said, “Well stranger, what were they like where you lived before?” The traveler said, “Those folks were the meanest, angriest, lying, cheating folks you’d ever want to meet. Why do you think I packed up and left?” “That’s pretty much what you’ll find here too,” said the old man, “ya’ might want to keep ridin’.”
The first rider left, and not ten minutes later another man rode up and asked the same question, “What are the people like here in this town?” Again, the man leaned back in his chair, looked out from under his hat, and said, “Well stranger, what were they like where you lived before?” The traveler said, “Well, they were about as good as you’d ever expect to find anywhere, kind-hearted, good-natured, friendly, and generous. To tell you the truth, I hated to leave.” The old man smiled and said, “You’ll love it here! The people are just the same as where you lived before.”
I really believe there’s a lot of truth to that story. So even though I’ll miss the wonderful, incredibly talented, generous, and grace-filled people I currently serve, I look forward to meeting another group of wonderful incredibly talented, generous, and grace-filled folks in my new place of service.