Saturday, April 09, 2011


I wrote to the Providence UMC congregation two weeks ago that I have been invited by my Bishop, Larry Goodpaster, to serve as a District Superintendent, and I have accepted this invitation. I have served at Providence for eight years, and it is a remarkable congregation. It is not a perfect church---I am often reminded of the Apostle Paul's insight that we hold the treasure of the gospel in earthen vessels, to show that the power belongs to God and not to us---but it is an extraordinary mission in the heart of a large city.

While all of this is most visible in some of our signature ministries---an awesome chancel choir, risk-taking local mission with the homeless on a large scale, substantive and long term initiatives in Haiti in the areas of education, health and microcredit, a Sunday School to worship ratio of almost 65%, a large adult disabled community within the church, and I could go on---there are more hidden activities that are equally compelling. We were included in a research project by Diana Butler Bass that became the basis for her book Christianity for The Rest of Us, and her thesis was that mainline churches were in fact thriving in most every community across the U.S. It is true.

I will miss the people of Providence. Many have become close friends, and many more have shared in the sacrifices necessary to help us move beyond an almost overwhelming indebtedness. I will miss preaching at Providence: it is an engaging and engaged gathering of people who listen to the sermons week by week. I will miss the study that I knew was required of me if I were to keep that kind of engagement going, at least from my end.

I will also miss introducing many of my friends from across the connection to Providence. We have welcomed Bishop Robert Schnase, author of the Five Practices material and David Wilkinson of Durham, England, Greg and Susan Jones and Sergei Nikolaev, Jim Salley of Africa University and Bishop John Innis of Liberia, David Mosser from First UMC in Arlington, Texas and Wallace Alston of the Center of Theological Inquiry, Ben Witherington and Bob Tuttle, Zan Holmes and Will Willimon, Gil Rendle and Steve Bryant, and I could go on. Almost all of them have made two comments: how active and mission-focused Providence is, and how many young adults and families are present on a given Sunday morning.

I will miss all of this, and more.

And yet I am blessed to be en route to a new ministry, as District Superintendent of the Waynesville District in our Annual Conference. The Waynesville District includes sixty-nine churches in the seven western most counties of our state. The offices are at Lake Junaluska, the administrative and spiritual center of the Southeastern Jurisdiction, and we will live there. I know many of the pastors in this district, we have a number of close friends in that community, and it is a beautiful part of the world. We have loved Charlotte, but we have always been drawn to the mountains (we have a small cabin there) and now find ourselves heading toward them.

So the coming weeks will be about my own attempt to have a good conclusion to a ministry that is very important to me. I know that many of the friendships will endure. And I also know that when our moving van makes its way up Interstate 40, west beyond Asheville, I will give thanks for the people that God will give me to serve in that region.


Blogger Jay Voorhees said...

Congratulations and condolences, for transitions as these are occasions of both celebration and grief. Although I sympathize with the folks at Providence in the loss of a beloved pastor, I look forward to having a chance to visit with you when we are at the lake for Soulfeast. Make God bless this move, may the family adjust well, and may you make a difference in our fellowship through this new role.

4:17 AM  

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