To the average member of Union Baptist Church of Swissvale, Charles Dickens’s opening words in his famous novel, A Tale of Two Cities, might be applicable to the church’s life at the current moment. To such a member, it might feel like it is the worst of times. The end of a pastor’s tenure, under any circumstances, might be considered a low point in the life of a congregation. Sadness prevails. Nostalgia kicks in. Raw emotions clamor for expression. Congregational changes trickle in as people, even in the most ordinary of pastoral departures, decide that this is an opportune time for them to make a departure as well. Yes, it can be the worst of times.
But the time that is before the Union Baptist Church of Swissvale at this moment, I’d like to put it to you, is also the best of times. For, consider the blessings that are yours, if you would count only a few of them:
1. The fact you are reading this means you are alive, and therefore, able to enjoy life and equipped to serve God!
2. The Union Baptist Church is, from the little I saw in my first visit (and compared to what I’ve seen in many churches over my many years of travel to many other churches), a church with perhaps an above-average level of congregational health;
3. You are approaching the completion of a century of witness to Jesus Christ, and your upcoming 97th anniversary should be a time for joyous reflection and celebration;
4. You possess a wide array of leaders, leadership and service gifts, and a membership which seems to demonstrate a measurable degree of energy, which, in the hands of Jesus, is sufficient to propel you forward to a new thing.
With all of these aforementioned blessings (and the list is not exhaustive), the time between the departure of your last pastor and the arrival of the next – known as the interim period – presents great opportunity. There is the opportunity to reflect on where God has brought you thus far; opportunity for revisiting your values, vision and mission; opportunity for re-imagining yourself, reassessing your ministry and perhaps even recalibrating your course for the future. The interim period is a time to look in the mirror honestly, and bravely: honestly so as to not play games with what you see; and bravely, so as to make the tough decisions for any “surgeries” or “interventions” or “change investments” that may be necessary. Of course, a look in the mirror would also reveal some things for which you shall give thanks, and celebrate, and reaffirm, and keep, and strengthen!
The interim period is also a time to remember that this journey you are on is one to which you have been called – not one you decided to embark upon yourself. And, if that is so, he who called you, knows the destination, knows the route, knows your energy levels, knows your potential, and knows the victories you’ll celebrate when you reach each milestone and then the final destination!
Jesus says that it is he who endures to the end who shall be saved (Matt 24:13). What that means is that, in the same way as we began the journey in Christ by faith, we shall not end it except by faith. It means, further, that we travel only by faith.
This is where I come in. I come to you as a partner in faith. I come to you, assuming that you are a faith community who understands that you walk by faith, not by sight. I trust that we shall listen, together, to the Holy Spirit’s voice, and discover, together, the wonderful grace of Jesus. I bring my best self to you but I offer it, first, to the Lord. I expect and urge you all to do the same. Let us embrace the moment and go boldly into the bright future the Lord has for us.
These are the best of times . . . at least, up until today. But just wait until tomorrow, or next year, or another few years. Just watch what the Lord not only can, but will, do. I invite you to join me in preparing to receive them.
With much grace,
Rev. Dr. Michael Friday