Tonight Scott Hatch and I reminisced about when we met. I had called the number I found in his zine, Burnt Toast. It was on the zine rack in Tower Books on South Street where I hung out a lot. He said, “Sure. Come over.” Scott Clinton rumbled down the stairs at some point while I was in their living room and I met him for the first time, too. I was in the middle of a big risk: planting a new church based on a new movement of God’s Spirit in my life. Those guys ended up taking a risk to join in, too, and they are still doing it. (Tonight we also remembered how Scott was responsible for the six cop cars that met me one night on Tenth St. But that’s another story).
I have enjoyed being the pastor for the Brethren in Christ of Philadelphia/Circle of Hope Center City/Broad and Washington/1125 S. Broad so far. There have been a few tough times; but if you ask me how it has felt, I’ll tell you it has been fun. Not all pastors get to say that. Thanks everyone.
I have enjoyed teaching every week, leading a cell, being on a PM Team, beginning and leading mission teams and compassion teams, even finding buildings and rehabbing them. I liked being available for emergencies and counseling, answering the door and the phone for strangers and figuring out where money was going to come from. Being the congregation’s pastor is varied and joyous if that’s what God gives you to do. When I saw the Instagram of Rachel blessing Jeffy and Toni’s new house on Saturday morning, I thought, “Yes! That’s what a pastor gets to do.” I couldn’t go because I was elsewhere, but it felt right to see her there being a blessing like pastors get to be.
I will get further opportunities to do the acts of love and truth that have led me, but not just like I have been doing for so long. Now is the time for a second act. We are taking a new risk together and this month brings it all to a head. Most of the time when a founding pastor makes a move it is “out to pasture!” Or a younger king deposes him. Or, like in some corporate dynasty, he moves into a ceremonial role to preserve his sense of power. We are trying something different. We are more like a tribe that sticks together, and continues to develop. So I am changing. It seems natural.
Late last year we had an inspiration and we have been letting it mature all this year. So far, it looks like our risky Map is going to lead us where we thought it would. As far as our staff goes, we shook things up. We took Nate to lead the new Hub and installed Ben as a new pastor in Pennsauken. I could feel the excitement at the Love Feast in New Jersey last week. And the team in the Hub has already proven indispensable. Now we are going to unleash Rachel as pastor on S. Broad and maybe even see how we are going to multiply that creative, resourceful congregation again.
That means soon I am out of the job I’ve had for nineteen years (well, it is not exactly the same job I had in 1996!). What are we going to do with me? Some people have wondered why I am retiring! Some have wondered why they are ending my job before my term is up. I tell them, “I am not done. I am still part of the team. What I am going to do is what I have been doing more and more. The leaders, are just recognizing what God has done and are moving with it.” The 2015 Map says I “will mentor leaders, speak to vision, generally oversee the Leadership Team, provide spiritual direction, give relevant training and teach among the whole church.” As this year has unfolded and I have begun to take on that new role as Rachel takes on hers, my new/old assignment seems to be more than enough to take up my time and imagination. Some see it as an honor, an elevation into a CEO role. I see it more as one of my favorite spiritual examples, Francis of Assisi, might see it. Like he called his order the “little brothers,” I want to become smaller. Some of that means I want to become more focused, I want to lead more from below, more one on one. That seems right to me.
Someone noticed that Rachel was speaking more often now and wondered when I was going to get to do it! They felt bad for me, since it seemed to them like speaking is what I do. I will be speaking, but that has never been my first calling or my great love. I want to lead people to Jesus and help create an environment where people are safe to become their true selves and members of a living incarnation of Jesus, the church. I am still going to get to do that. I am grateful that I have been called into a unique opportunity to use my gifts and experience, and use them among the people I love in the region to which I am called. It will strain me to change, of course, but I expect the suffering to be sweet.
There is more to all this change than I am jotting down. I am just feeling full and eager, so it is spilling over into print. Circle of Hope is great – not just the idea of it, but the people of it. I love you. I want to be a part of you as God has developed me. I am glad for the opportunity to help us develop. Thanks for making that possible.