Passing the Torch
The Wright Word, from Sarge Wright

St. Mark’s United Methodist congregation is now experiencing a long tradition known in churches of every denomination as “passing the torch” of leadership from one pastor to another pastor. You might guess that I have been involved in this exercise several times during my nearly seventy years of ministry in the US Navy and in the United Methodist Church; I can attest to the fact that this event can be an exhilarating time for the congregation, the departing pastor and the incoming parson but the success of such a venture depends upon the goodwill and hope invested by all parties concerned.

In the North American organizational setup of United Methodist churches, the change of pastors is a three-fold decision made by the departing minister and the church’s Staff-Parish Committee, the incoming pastor and his/her church and the Bishop’s cabinet of superintendents who are entrusted annually with the “passing the torch” event for nearly four hundred churches in the California-Nevada annual conference. I found my experience as a Superintendent was both daunting and hopeful for all concerned–all done with a prayer that the Holy Spirit would successfully surround the churches and the pastors and their families! Our congegation has experienced this event six times in its fifty-plus years..

And here we go again for the seventh time!! Pastor Faith Whitmore had a dedicated pastoral ministry in our church for ten years. Many felt a profound sense of loss when a pastoral change was announced. However, her appointment as Executive Director of Francis House in downtown Sacramento, following the death of its long-time Executive, seemed to assuage many of these feelings because of her longtime desire to minister to homeless and hurting people on the streets. She has already announced a city-wide event to honor the former executive!

Four hours away at the First Methodist Church in Campbell, CA near San Jose, was another congregation feeling deeply the loss of their pastor and wife, Alan and Linda Pickens-Jones, who they had come to love and greatly appreciate for only five years. However, the Bishop’s Cabinet felt that they were the perfect couple to serve St. Marks because of the similarity of their ministry to the Vision and Purpose of our Reconciling Congregation. Also, Linda is a retired pastor; however, we will not get “two pastors for one salary” because she will be a volunteer at St. Marks along with the rest of us! This is an example of the many difficult decisions the Cabinet has to make each spring to meet the growing needs of our conference congregations.

So what now? It is important for the Campbell and St. Marks congregations to be grateful for the fine ministries of their former pastors and to welcome their new spiritual leaders with love and anticipation of new ways of doing ministry and with an openness to some different styles of ministry and preaching. It is not a time to make comparisons between pastors but to celebrate the strengths and hopes of a new ministry about to begin.

God bless each of us in this exciting and faith-filled mission upon which we are embarking.

This is the Wright Word. God loves you and so do I.

Sarge Wright
Former St. Mark’s Chaplain