"The Lord will preserve your going out and your coming in from this time forth and for evermore."
On a day last spring I returned home (the afternoon that I put Patsy on a plane to rush to the bedside of her dying mother). I opened the door and immediately realized that we had been robbed.
Of course my first concern was not for the things that were taken (I could see that the burglars had not taken anything of value), but rather that the burglars were still in the house. I immediately exited and called the police.
To this day, even months later, we enter the house with some anxiety. At last we have a functioning alarm system. Still, one can't be too sure.
I remember a woman in my church telling me how difficult it was for her to attend evening meetings at the church, saying, "I'm not fearful to drive to the church. The hard part is leaving my home and then returning home after the meeting."
She is right. Entrances and exits are the most dangerous part of your day.
We pastors spend much of our ministry helping with entrances and exits. In baptism we welcome new life into the church. In funeral we bid farewell to those who leave this life, sending them over the threshold to the next. We work to integrate new members into the congregation; we send forth beloved members to another congregation. Thus, on our Conference Dashboard every week we count baptism and professions of faith and we count loss of members.
Entrances and exits, coming in and going forth are often frightening. We come into a new space, a new world and there is often anxiety. We leave a place, relinquish an old, accustomed world, and there is a sense of loss.
One of our most important innovations in North Alabama is our First 90 Days plan that is required of all full-time pastors and district superintendents. We ask for a specific, public, plan for succeeding in a new ministry. What occurs in the first days is crucial.
We are now devising a similar program for The Last 60 Days in which exiting pastor and the entering pastor work together, with the receiving congregation and receiving DS to produce a productive, smooth transition. Here is connectionalism at work!
Here is the Psalmist's promise: In the often anxious times of arriving or leaving God is there. Our God promises to be with us in our coming in and our going out. We cross no joyful or painful threshold in life where God does not go with us, preserving us, coming in or going out for evermore.
William H. Willimon
[Taken with permission from "A Word from Bishop Will Willimon," June 7, 2010. North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church.]