Alicia Reese
July 11, 2023

By now you have likely heard that Pastor John Edgerton will be leaving First United to accept a new call. I imagine this was shocking news to receive. I know I was surprised when he told Pastor Lydia and me.

Several people have asked about how I’m doing, or how the staff feels about this. I am more concerned with how you all are doing, but I wanted to take a moment to reflect on this upcoming transition and share my thoughts with you all in the hope that you too will take time to reflect on this for yourselves.

In a word: bittersweet.

This news is both sad and joyful, but that is exactly how it should feel when a pastor leaves! It means they did their job well, made meaningful connections, and had a positive, lasting impact on the community. When a beloved and respected pastor leaves it should serve as a healthy reminder that a church is not its pastor, a church is its people, YOU! The congregation is the church. You all have weathered the storms of pastoral transitions many times, but I dare say, this is not even a storm, it is simply an end of a season, and “for everything there is a season, a time for every matter under heaven…a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance…a time to seek and a time to lose…” (Ecclesiastes 3). We will weep and we will laugh, we will mourn, but we will also dance, and yes, we will lose Pastor John, but that means it will be time to seek, seek the next lead pastor of First United.

As an associate pastor here, I am grateful for the years he has served this church, especially for his faithful leadership through the pandemic, both for the congregation as a whole, as well as for us as a staff. He has been a wonderful boss whom I respect. It has been a joy to work with and learn from Pastor John.

As a clergy colleague, I admire John’s gifts for ministry, especially his preaching and tremendous care for people. His call to this work and passion for it are undeniable and his ear is always listening and discerning. Which is why I believe, and trust, that this is the right time for him to make a change and I am very excited for him! 

“We fear change.” This is one of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite movies, Wayne’s World. Yes, change can be scary, uncomfortable, and involve some hard work, but change is the only thing certain in life, and thankfully this is a change we have navigated before and one we do not go through alone.

This congregation is in a very different place than when I arrived over six years ago in the fall of 2016. As Winnie the Pooh would say, “you are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, smarter than you think, and loved more than you know.” You are a brave, strong, smart, loved, and loving church family. Whatever the next chapter is for First United, my cup runs over with faith and hope.

To honor this coming transition, I offer you this blessing “for beginnings and endings”
by Kate Bowler & Jessica Richie

        This life is made up of so many beginnings and endings.
We start new jobs and leave old ones.
We move to new cities and leave our childhood hobbies in our parents’ basement.
We become new people slowly (hopefully kinder and funnier?).
Friends and relationships come and go.
Dreams blossom and then they wither.
And we find ourselves here once again at the precipice of change.
Afraid to let go, and afraid of what will happen if we don’t.
Might this be a place of blessing too?

Blessed are we standing in the hallway
between closed doors and ones still to come,
between the old and the new,
between the worn-in and the doesn’t-quite-yet-fit,
between who we were and who we might become.

God, make it remotely possible to grow and change,
become open to new adventures, and
untethered to routine or to the same-old.
Because anxiety rising in my shoulders
and filling my throat tells me I am unlikely, unwilling,
to step forward.

Blessed are we who take a minute to look over our shoulder
at all we learned from what was, the people we became,
the people who loved us into becoming.
The peace that came with familiarity.

Blessed are we who trust this timing,
and who open our hearts anew to change, to new friends, to hope.
Nervous, maybe heavy-hearted,
but brimming with gratitude for a life so beautiful that it hurts to say goodbye.

Blessed are we, turning our eyes ahead toward a new path not yet mapped.
God, give us courage to take this next step,
and enough for the one after that too.
Remind us that you have gone before,
and behind, and around,
and are with us now.

In our leaving, in our arriving,
in our changes, expected or shocking,
surprise us with who we might become.

What To Do Next:
REFLECT: I have shared with you my thoughts, now it’s your turn.
  • How are you doing?
  • Did this news shock or surprise you?
  • Are you sad? Anxious? Angry? Frustrated? Do you feel betrayed?
  • Does this feel bittersweet for you too?

It’s ok to feel whatever you are feeling, it is understandable to be sad, even to be somewhat anxious, or frustrated. But if you are predominantly angry or feeling betrayed, I encourage you to reflect on that more, pray about it, and wonder to yourself, without judgement, why that is.
  • What will you miss most about Pastor John?
  • What is a memory of him as our lead pastor that you will hold onto?
  • What do you hope for in our next lead pastor?
TALK: You have over 700 siblings in the same boat as you right now, who have also learned of their lead pastor planning to take a new call. Talk to them! Reach out to one another or one of our deacons. Check in with each other, share conversation over coffee or a walk, send an email, make a phone call. You are not alone and you can help each other remember that.
Often, when a pastor leaves, it can lead to folks feeling disconnected from their church, but I want to challenge you to see this as the opportunity it is for reconnection, for nurturing and strengthening the bonds within our community, to be a community of care that supports one another, that can fortify the congregation as the church.
And don’t worry, we, your associate pastors and church staff will be here to support you too. We enter this time of transition together.
God’s Spirit is alive and well, working in, among, and through us, guiding us, encouraging us, holding us together. Thanks be to God.