Pastoral Transition at First Church: A Hard Decision, to be Followed by a Sad but Fond Farewell Nov24

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Pastoral Transition at First Church: A Hard Decision, to be Followed by a Sad but Fond Farewell

By now you may have heard of my decision to retire from local church ministry in mid-2014. The decision comes with some joy and sadness. I want to take a few paragraphs and explain in some detail.

Back in 2001 I was feeling antsy. Pastoral ministry felt confining and I needed to be back in the big city and face some new challenges. I looked around at the churches of the Annual Conference and realized I wasn’t very excited about serving in any of them. I’d finished nine good and productive years at one of our largest churches and, though it was a good time for me to go, I didn’t see a new place to land. So I called my district superintendent and chose to retire after 22 good years of ministry. I put out my resume and soon was executive director at Deaconess Children’s Services in Everett, followed by a five-year term as executive director at the Church Council of Greater Seattle.

Fast forward to 2007 and my job at the Church Council put me in touch with United Methodist Bishop Ed Paup, whom I found to be very inspiring and visionary. We talked over many months, and Ed cooked up this awesome idea: I’d “unretire” and become pastor at First Church Seattle (my home church) to help it make the huge transition from Fifth and Marion to its new, as yet unnamed, location. That was just the kind of challenge I needed, so 18 months prior to my first day on the job I was appointed to First Church.

The resulting 5 1/2 years have been amazing. The Second and Denny location was chosen and, when I arrived in 2008, plans were on the drawing board for our new building. I rolled up my sleeves and got to work helping our Building Advisory Board. By January 2010 the new building was complete and I began to help the congregation figure out what it meant to be in ministry in this new community. I threw myself into homeless ministry, then into advocacy for marriage equality, then into gun reform and other issues that helped put First Church back on the map of theological and moral leadership for Seattle. I enjoyed helping develop our community groups program, our more contemporary worship service, our Stephen Ministry program, and helping us get back on track to a sustainable budget, among many other internal initiatives.

But some of the old, familiar feelings began to creep back in — maybe ordained ministry is not exactly where God wants me to be. I feel it in an increasing sense of restlessness and in a desire to slay a few more big dragons before I hang up my boots for good.

So, in spite of my love for the people of First Church and for the joy of preaching in a big city pulpit I’ve decided to listen to some other deep passions. Those who know me know I love travel; pilgrimages in particular, and I’ve shared with many the book contract I’ve signed that’ll take me to Italy in 2014 to create a guidebook for a walk from Florence to Assisi to Rome. Rather than just take a standard month of vacation, though, I’ve decided to do this book in a slower way. I’ll spend a month in Florence for language study, then I’ll walk the pilgrimage twice over two months. At the end, I may stay another month or two in Florence or another Italian city to complete the writing project.

Some may also know of another passion of mine — public policy. I’ve run for office twice and been elected once. I feel I have a strong public voice, with something important to say. With over 12 years in Seattle I’ve made many friends, fought for many good causes, and now I’m intrigued by the possibility of taking my interest in leadership to a new level by running for office in 2015. No announcement yet, but I’m seriously considering a run of some kind that year.

As I consider my call, it wouldn’t be totally unfair to say I’m an adrenalin junkie who gets his “fix” by helping churches and church-related institutions during their moments of greatest challenge. My work is best in the scary congregational transitions that take courage, vision and strong bursts of hard work and energy. Some of these same passions can find their outlet in public service. As far as First Church goes, this is not time for an adrenaline junkie as pastor. Now is the time for an eloquent, patient, prophetic and visionary leader who loves the daily work of being a pastor — of loving a people and proclaiming the gospel and staying the course of continued growth and development of this important congregation.

In romantic transitions it’s become cliche to say, “It’s not you, it’s me.” But here, in a very real way it’s true. My decision comes as a surprise to many, but in my heart I know it’s time for me to go — not because of this wonderful congregation, but because of me. And I know I’ll cherish these next six months we have together. You are a beloved people of God, beautiful to behold.

Your friend,

Rev. Sandy Brown