Earlier this week many United Methodist congregations in south Georgia received new pastors on what they call “Moving Day,” prompting me to muse about the ways congregations receive new pastors.
Every faith group has its own way of recruiting and receiving pastors. Here, where Southern Baptists predominate, we are most familiar with the system where a pulpit committee does the majority of the work, acting as a search committee that interviews candidates and makes a recommendation.
This system offers the advantage that each church hires precisely the pastor that fits its unique personality and also decides when it’s time to release that pastor. A church can patiently sift through any number of candidates before choosing. In this system, the pastor is a “free agent” who can come and go when he/she pleases. Such a system is in keeping with the independent, congregational mindset of Southern Baptists and many other similar congregations.
Catholics, Episcopalians, Lutherans and Presbyterians operate on somewhat of a modified “call” system, perhaps seeking a new leader through a diocese or bishop, possibly interviewing candidates supplied them by their hierarchical structure. These congregations, like the Baptists, may use an interim pastor to serve a congregation for 6-12 months while that congregation seeks a new pastor.
I know of no other system quite like the United Methodists. Because most United Methodist churches provide a parsonage (church-owned house), every pastor who moves must do so on exactly the same day. One pastor moves out of the parsonage in the morning and another pastor with moving van arrives at that house in the afternoon. The master bedroom in the parsonage isn’t even empty one single evening: fresh sheets, a new pillow and a new family is living in the house.
This system is a little jarring for both pastors and congregations. This Methodist system of supplying churches with pastors is akin to a Tom Cruise adventure movie where the good guy is in a helicopter flying 75 mph, preparing to jump onto a speeding train going in the opposite direction at 100 mph. The pastor stands at the open door of the helicopter and the bishop says “Jump!”
Hopefully, the pastor sails through the air and right through the open window of the engine room of that speeding locomotive precisely one second after the former engineer has jumped out of the window onto another passing train on a parallel track.
It’s a harrowing scene, and yet United Methodists would have it no other way. Usually the new pastor who flies through the window is precisely what that congregation needs. United Methodists — like their cousins in other denominations — are a patient, loving lot. There is no perfect way to find (or bid goodbye to) pastors, but as new men and women step into United Methodist pulpits this Sunday, most Methodists will be thankful for this system that has more than a little drama.
The Rev. Creede Hinshaw of Macon is a retired Methodist minister.