It happened almost forty years ago, somewhere between Massachusetts and Texas. For when we left Boston, headed back home to take our first pastoral appointment, I had been told that we were being posted to the town of Waller, a small burg just to the northwest of Houston.
By the time my aging Dodge Dart could make it back to the Lone Star State, however, the bishop had changed the appointment. And so we spent the next three years happily settled into the coastal community of Brazoria, aptly named for the adjacent Brazos River–or as the early Spanish settlers called it, the Rio de los Brazos de Dios, or “The River of the Arms of God.”
And now apparently, it’s happened once again. For before I ever even officially got to my new job downtown as the Director of the Center for Congregational Excellence of the Texas Annual Conference–a title I worried would never fit on a regular sized business card, by the way— my appointment has shifted. Instead, I am now being sent to serve as the pastor of Christ United Methodist Church in Sugar Land, a congregation nestled right up against that same Brazos River, only some forty miles or so further upstream than our first assignment.
Such sudden changes, of course, come with the job of being an itinerant Methodist pastor. Admittedly, we’re not quite the “prophets of the long road” that our circuit-riding predecessors were. But in the end, those of us who are the spiritual heirs of John Wesley and Francis Asbury still go where we are sent, and we gladly serve those to whom we have been appointed.
To be clear, let me own the fact that as odd as it all unfolded–quite literally coming together just this week, in the days after our annual conference ended and I preached my final sermon at Lakewood– I felt God’s gentle nudge to offer myself up for this assignment and I believe that the revised appointment is the right one for us. Likewise, I hope in turn that I can be the right pastor for Christ UMC at this time in their church’s life as well.
I will miss being on the bishop’s cabinet, however, an opportunity I have greatly enjoyed since January when I unofficially joined that group. I’ve been impressed, in fact, by the careful and prayerful work that the cabinet has done in making over a hundred appointments this spring, but never really rushing any of them. They work hard at trying to get it right for everyone involved, a task not at all as easy as it might seem from the outside.
And I have similarly observed a genuine concern on the part of all of my colleagues, particularly our bishop, to try to discern what is needed the most not just for the congregation or pastors involved, but for the mission field around each appointment too. In the words of Mr. Wesley, we ought always to be concerned for those persons who are not yet in “the household of faith” but are “groaning” so to be.
Technically, I will continue to be appointed to the Center for the next two months, teaching Methodist History for Perkins in July before beginning the pastorate at Christ UMC on September 1. And this will enable me to set the record for the shortest tenure ever recorded on the Texas Annual Conference Cabinet.
Years from now, in fact, I suspect I might actually be a trivia question within the conference lore–perhaps even the “Kevin Costner of the Cabinet” whom some might recall was actually cast in the 1983 classic film The Big Chill, but whose scenes were entirely edited out before the movie’s actual release. I’ll be curious to see, thus, whether I am photo-shopped out of the official cabinet picture that was taken just a week or so ago while at conference!
As much as we never saw it coming, thus, I am curiously hopeful that this sudden change of plans will put us smack dab in the middle of God’s Will for our lives, something that often we have only discovered after we arrived there.
But then, after all, how wrong can you really go when you end up back where you began, resting in the Arms of God?