Today was our pastor’s last Sunday at Beebe First United Methodist Church. Next week we will have a different spiritual leader and our “old” preacher will have a “new” church home. That’s the Methodist way.
You can tell how long I’ve been a member, since I often refer to us as “Methodists” when we’ve been United Methodists since 1968. But I digress.
It’s called the itinerancy, continued from the earliest years in the United States when most denominations used Circuit Riders to bring the Gospel to their scattered flocks. In the United Methodist Church today, each summer elders are assigned (or re-assigned) to a church or charge. Every pastor has a church (sometimes more than one) and every church has a pastor (sometimes more than one). No Methodist preacher has to go out looking for a job.
This is a good deal for the minister and the congregation. The Bishop and his cabinet make the assignments. The pastor goes where he’s sent. There are sacrifices, after all, when one answers the call to full-time Christian service.
Brother Russell has served in Beebe six years. This is a long tenure, the average stay being three or four years. Both his children graduated from BHS. Couples he married brought their babies to be baptized. His first confirmation class of Beebe youth will enter college in the fall.
During the children’s story today, our pastor stopped, took a deep breath and paused. We have learned to recognized this as emotion, God touching his heart with the poignancy of the moment. As he continued, from the choir, I could see the child sitting next to him move her hand across his back as far as she could reach.
Softly she rubbed the palm of her hand across his shoulder blade to the middle of his back and to his shoulder again. I could imagine she had learned this comforting movement from a parent who had soothed her in that manner. It was such a compassionate act of love. I was touched.
She’ll always remember Brother Russell, even after she falls in love with Brother Matt.
Our children see their pastor as more than just the one who preaches and baptizes and serves communion. For them, he’s even more than just the good sport willing to wear a crazy costume for VBS. They see him, also, as vulnerable as the rest of us, as one whose heart also hurts when it’s time to say good-bye.
The comfort that one little girl could offer her pastor in this bittersweet moment is all the proof we need — if we should need it all — that no one is too young or too old to be a part of God’s Kingdom.
This is not just the Methodist way. It’s God’s way.