This Sunday, you get to vote to terminate our employment. Specifically, and less harshly, you will be asked in the formal motion to join in our request “to dissolve the pastoral relationship” effective June 30, 2022. While having a congregational meeting and such a formal resolution to vote on may seem at first puzzling if not bizarre, there are good reasons behind this process, reasons based on some of the most important Presbyterian understandings regarding church leadership and ordained ministry.
A foundational belief of Presbyterians is that the people of the congregation get to choose their pastoral leaders. Our Scottish forbears rebelled against the idea that a ruling bishop or the local nobility could impose a pastor on a congregation. Twenty-eight years ago, when you called us, there was a congregational meeting and the congregation voted to call us as co-pastors. We entered a covenant together then that spelled out the obligations of each side that included our pay and benefits. Each year at First Presbyterian’s annual congregational meeting you have amended that covenant when you voted on our new salary and benefit package. Now, you will vote to dissolve the pastoral relationship.
There is always a third party to these covenants – the local Presbytery. While the Presbytery will never impose a pastor on the congregation, it does participate to ensure that congregations and pastors treat each fairly. For that reason, we will not moderate the meeting; instead, there will be a representative from the Commission on Ministry of the Presbytery to moderate the meeting: Rev. Strother Gross. The Commission on Ministry will also serve as a resource to the Session and eventual search committee during this process. This Sunday morning in the Adult Forum at 9:15AM in the Community Room, representatives from the COM will be here to explain the transition process and answer any questions.
As we did in 1994, we will sign a covenant with FPC governing what we say and do after we leave here. Specifically, we will agree not to undertake any pastoral functions related to FPC and its members: we will not attend worship, preach, do baptisms, or officiate at funerals or weddings, etc. While we do not have to cut off all contact with members of FPC, we are never to offer counseling, advice, or talk about church matters. FPC, in turn, will agree not to ask us to do any of these things.
There is wisdom behind this covenant. Unless we step back, there will not be an opportunity for new pastoral relationships to be forged with our successors. Unless we step back, FPC will not have as strong a candidate pool from which to choose. Certainly, we would have passed over coming here if we thought there was some past pastor lingering around. The fact is we were blessed that all of our predecessors had stepped back so we could be free to build relationships with all of you.
In 2023, FPC will celebrate its 175th anniversary. Although we have served a long time here, our ministry represents a very short span it the long history of this community of faith. We truly stand on the shoulders of the generations that have gone before us. We know first-hand that this congregation has been well served by our predecessors. In 1998, we gathered with all of the then living pastors of FPC who could come back for the anniversary. We had a great time together, and one of us remarked that it was too bad we couldn’t have all been here together!
We don’t know exactly what the future holds – for FPC or us – after June 5, but we do know this: God who has been “our help in ages past,” will be our “hope for years to come.”
Grace and peace,
Carter and Kerry