On Taking A New Call And Moving To Chicago

Last Sunday I was elected by the congregation of Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago to be their next Associate Pastor for Youth. I will begin there on February 1st. My last Sunday at my call of the past eight years, Claremont Presbyterian Church, will be January 17th.

There is so much to say about this, and a blog post is not the way to say most of it. Let me try to say a few things, though.

I entered the conversation with the Associate Pastor Nominating Committee of Fourth Church from a position of stability and security at Claremont. I was open to exploring the Fourth opportunity, but not because I was unhappy or unfulfilled in my current call. Fourth Presbyterian Church is a one-of-a-kind congregation that wants to be in ministry with diverse youth in experimental ways. I’m into that. Also, I’m drawn to the challenge to learn and grow in a context very different from the one that has shaped me these past eight years. My months of conversation with the APNC have only increased Fourth’s allure, and now that I have been called, I can’t wait to get to work with that congregation and its staff.

The Claremont Presbyterian Church has made me the envy of my colleagues with the degree of freedom, flexibility, and permission it has granted me in my work. For example, last July the congregation very helpfully voted to amend my terms of call and my job description to allow me to begin a quarter-time post as an Associate for Ministry Development with the Presbytery of San Gabriel. That move on Claremont’s part is a testament to its support of its pastors and its commitment to our connectional denomination. Clearly, two opportunities were presenting themselves to me at the same time, one immediate and one distant (I had yet to actually speak with the Fourth APNC). That the Claremont church so enthusiastically enabled me to seize the former was a great gift to me, one that I’m sorry to say I will not be able to fully honor.

For another example, the youth at Claremont have been a gift from God to my life. They have endured countless puns and honored my every request for openness to something new. They have allowed me to lead them and they have led me. They have taught me, challenged me, and even forgiven me. They have formed my faith; I am not the same person I was when I started, thanks to them.

For another another example, The Rev. Karen Sapio is a generous and wise pastor who has taught me and cheered me on. Whatever happens next in Claremont will be thoughtful, curious, and grounded, because that’s Karen.

We are living through a complex time as the Presbyterian Church (USA). While many of the structures that have defined our life together are eroding, opportunities for new, creative ministry are everywhere around us. I chose awhile ago to chase down those opportunities publicly by blogging about my (and my church’s) experiments in ministry, my growth, and my failures. I am eager to continue that work from my position at Fourth, whose APNC enthusiastically affirmed my blogging in our conversations about their vision for that church’s future.

It’s a dicey proposition for a church to have one of their pastors writing publicly about what goes on in the pews. Yet Claremont has cheered my blogging work. The church has even seen it as an extension of my call there. i hope I have honored that view of what I’ve been trying to do here (we’ve come a long way from the controversy created by this post about my phone interview with the Claremont APNC). Likewise, I hope to honor it at Fourth.

I will do my best to say all the important things in person over the next two months and to begin this next chapter on that same foot come February.

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