The Nervous Anxiety of Change
By: Susan Naslund
My dad was a petroleum engineer who worked for one large oil company during his entire career. He was an effective supervisor and successful manager of production in the oil-rich regions of California. We always lived with the anxiety that my dad could be transferred to a different office where his gifts would be used to improve the performance at another site. That meant our family would have to pack up and move . . . again. I can remember crying each time my dad came home with the announcement of the “good news” that we were relocating. It was always traumatic and it never got easier. As a child, I attended four elementary schools, tried hard to fit in at each one, and always felt I was forced to leave just as things were starting to get good. My dad’s efforts to soften the blow with promises of a room of my own at the new house, or a puppy at the next God-forsaken town, were only somewhat comforting. I was always certain the change would be bad and that things could not possibly be better in the future.
As we get ready to say “goodbye” to Pastor Eric Smith and “hello” to Pastor Greg Batson, I am reminded of those nervous fears of change I experienced in my childhood. It is a similar anxiety I am feeling. Yes, we have gone through the transition of clergy at Foothills before -- many times, in fact. But, it is always traumatic, and it doesn’t get any easier. Even in eras when many in the congregation welcomed the change in leadership, there was painful upheaval. And this time, the hurt is especially intense for those who thought they were just beginning to “fit in” with Pastor Eric before he was appointed elsewhere. Promises of a new “spirit-filled leader and preacher” are encouraging, but not completely healing right now.
It might help to refresh our knowledge about the itinerant system in the United Methodist Church. The Book of Discipline is the “instrument for setting forth the laws, plan, polity and process by which the United Methodists govern themselves.” As stated in Paragraph 338, “The itinerant system is the method of the United Methodist Church by which ordained elders, provisional elders and associate members are appointed by the bishop to fields of labor. All ordained elders, provisional elders, and associate members shall accept and abide by these appointments.” In other words, our pastors agree at the time they are ordained that they may be transferred from one assignment to another at any time in their careers. The reality of a move might be surprising at times, but never entirely unexpected. The good news is that we can have confidence that the bishop and cabinet have the best interest of all the churches in the Conference as they consider clergy appointments. I trust that our bishop moves our pastors to fields of labor where their gifts will be best used to further God’s kingdom.
When I was a child, I hated moving. Looking back, I can see that each relocation brought many wonderful things: new friends, different vistas, unforeseen opportunities. At the time, it was hard to believe that what was to come would be so enriching. At the time, I didn’t understand what I know now -- that change can be very good.
And, in the Episcopal Greetings in the introduction of the Book of Discipline the Council of Bishops wrote, “We do not see the Discipline as sacrosanct or infallible, but we do consider it a document suitable to our heritage and an expression of a future with hope.” It seems to me, the itinerant system is one of those structures that was put in place to be instrumental in creating a hopeful future – hope that a pastor’s gifts will be best matched to the setting in which he or she serves. That is good for all of us. While we will definitely miss Pastor Eric, we can be assured that his new congregation will be blessed by his presence. Likewise, I believe we will be blessed by the arrival of Pastor Greg. God will not forsake us. Our District Superintendent has promised an era of vibrant growth and an optimistic future at Foothills. A new puppy might help, too.