I was preparing to leave for a three week trip to South Africa in May 1991. The afternoon before I was to leave Atlanta I received a telephone call from my district superintendent. It was Thursday of the cabinet's appointment making week in North Georgia. When I answered the phone Rev. Marion Pierson said, "The bishop knows that you are leaving tomorrow and he did not want you to hear this news from half way around the world."
The "news" was that I would be moving from the appointment I had served for twelve years. I had not asked for a move. My church had requested that I return. There had been no conversation about my appointment since January when the Staff-Parish Relations Committee and I sent out request forms to the DS.
After a mostly sleepless night I headed to the airport the next morning for the flight to Johannesburg. I left my wife with three children and the knowledge that their lives were about to change. To make it worse this news of our move could not yet be shared with our parishioners and friends. Lena would have to begin preparations for moving to Augusta without me and without anyone else knowing.
The limitations of technology made it very difficult to stay in touch with my wife back home during my visit to South Africa. This was before cell phones and internet (seems so ancient, doesn't it?). I depended on limited access to fax machines to communicate.
No one back home knew that I was about to move but it was safe to talk about it 12,000 miles away. I was surprised that the people of South Africa did not really know where Atlanta was located. Their knowledge of United States geography was about on par with my knowledge of Africa. When Georgia was mentioned someone would occasionally recognize it as the home of Jimmy Carter. However when I said I would be moving to Augusta upon my return someone would say, "Oh, the Masters!" Without exception! Every time there was an association of The Garden City with the Masters golf tournament.
On my return trip to Atlanta we changed planes in Frankfurt, Germany. My seat mate for the last leg of the journey was an Iranian who was going to his son's college graduation in Pennsylvania. Beyond knowing that he made flight connections there, he knew very little about Atlanta. But when I mentioned Augusta he immediately remarked, "the Masters."
As I watched the Masters last week, I remembered my experience 20 years ago. I was distressed about moving from a place and people that I loved. Douglasville and metro Atlanta had become home for me and my family. My youngest son was born there. My oldest son was in third grade and our daughter was 3 years old when we moved there. Lena and I were comfortable with the congregation and the community. But the bishop and cabinet had decided that we should move.
The South Africa experiences should have given me insight into what I would discover--Augusta was a wonderful place. The Masters was the city's window to the world but there was so much more there.
My move to Augusta was good for me and my family. I did not choose it. I was content where I was. But the bishop and cabinet felt like I should move. I am a United Methodist preacher and I had vowed to go where I was sent. I trusted that God was guiding this process so I went willingly but with much apprehension. In retrospect I can testify about how good that move was for me and my family.
Hundreds of North Georgia Conference preachers and congregations are anxious about this time every year as the bishop and cabinet makes decisions about clergy leadership for over 900 local churches.
For 39 years I have trusted my life, my ministry, and my family to this method of deploying clergy. I have seen how much prayer and attention is given to this process. It is not a perfect process but I am confident that God's Spirit guides it.
[Taken with permission from "Monday Morning in North Georgia," April 11, 2011. North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church.]