Fathers, Babies and Moving Vans

Moving/Storage boxes

If you are a West Virginia United Methodist pastor who has been reassigned this year, it is moving week. Your life is in boxes and you are –  or soon will be – on the road.

The itinerancy.

It’s hard…but also exciting.

It’s an opportunity for a fresh start…but also a painful parting.

I went through such moves with my family six times by the time I graduated high school.

As I shared in an earlier post (which you can read here) I have been feeling restless and have set out on a “Summer Itinerancy” of my own – planning to worship with a different congregation each Sunday of the summer.

This past week I worshipped at First United Methodist Church in Williamstown, West Virginia. I chose this church because it was Father’s Day, my parents would be worshipping here, and I wanted to worship with my parents.

I did not grow up in this church, but the church and my family share a strong connection.

My grandfather served as pastor here in the late 40’s and early 50’s. My dad was a high school student at the time. He used to dust the pews and perform other chores at the church.

Hand on edge of worn wooden church pew.

Dad’s hand on the back of a worn wooden pew he used to dust every week more than 60 years ago.

If my grandfather had never been assigned to this church, it’s highly likely I would never have been born.

I am certain my grandparents,  my dad and my uncle missed people from their earlier churches, but it was because they itinerated to this place that my parents met, fell in love, married and started a family.

So, yeah, this church holds a prominent spot in our family narrative.

On this particular Father’s Day Sunday, we celebrated a baptism and helped the congregation say goodbye to their current pastor, who has been reassigned.

In his final worship service at this church, the pastor baptized a baby girl old enough to walk and curious enough to reach out for the water. Her mother held her hand and kept a watchful eye over the breakable bowl of water as the pastor talked about the sacrament.

“Baptism,” said the pastor, who did not appear at all concerned about the breakable bowl, “welcomes people into ongoing covenant, from generation to generation.”

The water that attracted the child’s attention was now sprinkled on her head.

“In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

Members of the church welcomed the child and promised to nurture and support her as she grows in her faith. Life being life, chances are she will eventually grow up and move away and live elsewhere – going out into the world, yet eternally connected to this moment, this place, these people. The Baptismal Covenant II - Holy Baptism for Children and Others Unable to Answer for Themselves - from United Methodist Hymnal.

Following the baptism, the congregation turned its attention to saying goodbye to the man who had served as their pastor for the past ten years. In a slide show set to music, images of earlier baptisms, weddings, mission trips, Sunday School classes, potluck suppers and the like flashed across a screen.

Their message:“Thank You”; “We love you”; “We will miss you”; “Go, light the world.”

The service ended with the congregation singing “Shalom to you.”

The itinerancy.

It’s hard…but also exciting.

It’s an opportunity for a fresh start…but also a painful parting.

The pastor is leaving – going out into the world, yet eternally connected to this moment, this place, these people.

And those other pastors and their families packing boxes and loading trucks this week?

They also are answering a call to “Go, light the world.”

They also will forever remain connected to the moments and places and people of their itinerancy.

Shalom to them.

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Summer Itinerancy

Family poses for photo in front of home - ready to load into their Chrysler Newport and hit the road.

This is my family in the 1970s in front of the parsonage where we lived. Ready to hit the road in our Chrysler Newport.

My restless soul longs to roam.

Not surprising.

It’s in my DNA.

My grandfather was a circuit riding Methodist minister in the 1930s. He traveled a seventy-six mile loop through Nicholas County West Virginia – often on foot or by horse – to serve nine churches during the depths of the Great Depression. In the following decades, his ministry took him and his family (including my dad) to numerous towns in two states.

My dad walked in his footsteps and was also ordained a Methodist minister.

Methodist (now United Methodist) ministers are itinerant. That means they move from place to place, appointed by a bishop a year at a time, to serve the churches and communities to whom they are sent. My family moved when Dad moved, of course. We were an itinerant family – moving from church to church and town to town.

By the time I graduated high school, I had moved six times.

We laugh at the fact that my parents, my sisters and I were each born in a different West Virginia county seat – Weston (Lewis), Parkersburg (Wood), Clarksburg (Harrison), Charleston (Kanawha) and Morgantown (Monongalia.)

We remember the people in each church and community – people who adopted us and took us in. We remember each parsonage that became our temporary home. We laugh and cry at the memories of those times and places.

Each appointment brought change and new perspective.

FAST FORWARD.

My husband, son and I have been members of the same congregation for fourteen years.

For me, that’s a longevity record and, frankly, my spirit is itching to hit the road.

The itinerant gene in my DNA calls my name and summons me.

With this calling and quest my soul cries out for new perspective.

So, beginning with this past “Conference Sunday” (the final worship service of the annual gathering of West Virginia United Methodists), I intend to worship with a different congregation every Sunday for the rest of the summer.

I have been planning this “summer itinerancy” for a while now, but if I needed a sign that I should do it, I got it Sunday.

The confirmation came through baptism.

Our worship included three infant baptisms. Two of the three were minister’s children – the third, a cousin of one of the others.

During a United Methodist baptism, the congregation vows to help nurture and support the person (often an infant) as they grow in their faith.

As the bishop prepared to baptize the babies, she pointed out that the ministers’ church membership is with the Annual Conference – not any particular local congregation. In effect the Annual Conference is their congregation and as part of these baptisms conference members were vowing to help nurture and support these children as they grow in their faith – and as they likely itinerate from place to place with their parents.

My eyes welled with tears.

Yes!

I could relate to the life stretching before these infants. Kindred spirits! In the presence of hundreds of worshipers and surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, they were baptized into a spirit-filled connection that transcended any particular place or town or congregation.

In our family’s itinerancy over those years, all of the local congregations – but also the Annual Conference connections – were an important part of my nurture and care as I grew in my faith.

Black and white photo of a middle school Sunday School class - 1974. 12 Students and a teacher pose for a group photo.

1974 Sunday School class at St. John’s UMC in New Martinsville, WV. A series of congregations like this one have nurtured and supported me from the beginning – and continue to do so.

These baptisms reminded me of that wonderful truth and confirmed my call to a summer itinerancy. They reminded me that we are part of a connection larger than our local congregation.

I am eager to hit the road and stop by other outposts of the connection.

I’m not sure what I will find, but I have faith it will be worth the journey and will nurture my soul.

Pathway through a tunnel - with bright light at the end.