Since receiving my appointment to become the Pastor of Grace UMC the end of June I have been asked a lot of questions about the itineracy. Some of the questions have been from curious non-UMC pastors who wonder what it is like to make a church change based the appointment of the Bishop rather than the church call system used by many congregationally organized denominations. Some of the questions have come from members of my current church who know of the system but often wonder how it works or why United Methodists use this system for the placement of pastoral leadership in the Conference.
The system of pastors being placed by the Bishop or a superintendent goes all the way back to John Wesley who with his brother Charles and others founded the Methodist movement. He sent out preachers and circuit riders to share the gospel all over England and used this means of assignment to maximize the effectiveness of spreading the gospel and the Methodist message of God’s grace to all who would listen. This system continued in the US after the founding of the Methodist Episcopal Church and under the leadership of Francis Asbury and has carried forward into United Methodist Church we have today.
The purpose of the itineracy is for the Bishop to place pastors where they are most needed for the most effective benefit of all the congregations in the conference for the entire welfare of the conference. It is a system that allows the Bishop and the cabinet to look at the overall needs of congregations and not just the needs of one congregation or even the desires of one congregation for leadership.
This is a system which I have come to believe has very strong and Biblical roots in the leadership of the Apostles assigning leaders to congregations and one which I believe can be more effective than the congregational polity I grew up in where pastoral calls are often based on wants rather than needs or simply on who is available rather than the person who is a match for the congregation.
As for me as a Provisional Member of the Iowa Conference and new United Methodist pastor, I see the itineracy as part of my spiritual journey of going where God wants me to go. In Celtic Christian liturature we read about St. Columba who set out in a voyage with a dozen others in a coracle, a small Irish boat, to find a new home, a new place where God wanted them to serve. They sailed until they found a new home on the Island of Iona where Columba founded a famous monastery. Columba’s Voyage of the Coracle is a repeated theme in Celtic Christianity because Celtic Christians emphasize that the Christian faith is a journey and a pilgrimage that we are all on. The destination is important but what is most important is always being willing to place our coracle in the water and set out where God wants you to go.
I have loved my time serving in Cedar Falls. I have made friendships here that I hope to have for the rest of my life. But I am also honored that I have been appointed by my Bishop to put my coracle back in the water and go on pilgrimage with another congregation in this great United Methodist connection of which I am a part. There is joy in the destination, there is joy in the journey, there is joy in opening up to the leading of God to take me wherever the wind and waves will take me.
For all of those on this great journey whose hearts have been strangely warmed by the healing grace of Jesus Christ, Happy Aldersgate Day!