I recently attended the PC(USA) Transitional Ministry Conference at the Zephyr Point Conference Center in Lake Tahoe, Nevada. The conference itself was an excellent introduction to transitional ministry and some of the unique features of ministry with this specific calling. Even so, my biggest take-aways from the conference came simply from being around other pastors.
In my first call, I was an associate pastor at a larger church with three ordained pastors and a commissioned ruling elder on staff in addition to many other staff members. In truth, I remember attending lunches with other area Presbyterian pastors and kind of wondering about the purpose of the gathering. I always felt more connected to the women’s pastor lunch, but since my call had me surrounded by a pastoral community, you could say that I was not in the practice of seeking it out.
I am now a bivocational, part-time solo pastor. My second job makes it impossible for me to attend the Presbyterian pastors lunch, except for in the summer (when they most often cancel it and take a break). When I decided to attend the transitional ministry conference as part of my continuing education, I wasn’t seeking community — I was seeking education on churches in transition. Yet, I found myself gravitating towards community. I met pastors from smaller churches like the one I serve with similar challenges in ministry. I met pastors from larger churches that reminded me of what it was like to serve in a church that is larger in size. I met pastors that were not yet in a call. I met pastors in transitional ministry calls. And I met retired pastors who were trying to discern whether transitional ministry would be for them. It is a special privilege to be surrounded by people who do the same work that you do. (I even met someone who has the same secondary vocational call as me!)
“I am just enjoying the group think,” one pastor shared midweek. “I think the group is smarter together.” If I am honest, I do not alwaysfeel this way, but I very much appreciated the willingness of the group to share what works in their ministry context and what does not. I appreciated learning from other pastors about their ministry hacks and looking at ministry from varying perspectives. I appreciated the diversity of geography and thinking about how ministry differs across the country.
We ended the week by responding to three questions in our small groups:
- Share an insight.
- What did you appreciate about the gifts and talents of others?
- Share a growing edge.
As I reflect on my responses, I realize that they all incorporate community in some aspect. I was grateful for the time to “sit at the feet” of the faculty pastors. Similarly, I was grateful for the multitude of generations around the table. Specifically, it was encouraging to witness retired pastors struggle with technology. Realizing that sentence sounds cruel, allow me to explain: Technology may not come easily to them, but they are not willing to give up and abandon it altogether. I found it encouraging that these pastors know they need to find a way to continue to incorporate technology into their ministry even if it does not come naturally to them. And finally, I left this conference appreciating my church and my call to ministry even more deeply. I realized having my need for community met allowed me to leave with a renewed sense of call and energy to the work we are doing together.
Even though I don’t always seek it out or make space for it, there really is no substitute for community. There is no substitute for the way colleagues can uplift and encourage one another. Thank you to all for a special week of camaraderie, collaboration and acceptance. I learned so much, but just as importantly, I experienced community and the love and acceptance of Christ.
JULIE RAFFETY serves as the pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Franklin, New Jersey. Julie is a violinist, aspiring writer, snowboarder, runner, identical twin and crazy about popcorn.