I am now back from a week-long conference, and it certainly feels good to be home. In a few weeks, I’ll officially have begun my third year at Church of the Saviour in Cleveland Heights, Ohio…longer than any other United Methodist ministry positions that I have had. This place, our church family, feels like home now. Should I feel guilty about that? Is settling down merely an illusion?
People today find our system weird…and it is.
Historically, as Methodism spread throughout America, there were far more churches than pastors. So the trained clergy would travel in a circuit of churches, preaching and administering sacraments along the way. The churches were more grassroots -they depended on the strength of laity over their traveling pastors. And so there was a fluidity with the position of pastor in that day. They were nomads…pioneers. Many of them remained single, and the average life expectancy of these circuit riders was shocking.
Of course the great missionary Paul traveled from place to place. Aside from those who remained in Jerusalem, many of the early church leaders went from town to town…never staying much more than a few years in one place. And then there’s Jesus, who in the midst of his ministry famously confessed, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”
But a shift has taken place. America was fully settled, and nearly all of America adopted Christianity as its main religion. Christianity had almost become completely enculturated., and pastors no longer needed to take on that missionary path. They could settle, raise a family, and allow the other pastor in the next town do their own work. This is the type of pastoral situation I’m familiar with. Ok, yes, I used to be a missionary, but life is different now. I have a family…I resonate with settling down.
And so I live in this tension of wanting to settle, but also having a role that is historically unstable, itinerant, and in today’s context…a little weird.
(part 2 of this coming on Monday…)