I am moving. Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett has appointed me to become the pastor at First United Methodist Church in Decatur, Alabama. My first Sunday there will be June 14, 2015. See more about this appointment in the Decatur First UMC newsletter, Tidings of Joy. I published The Land That Calls Me Home one year ago in March. The book title led many to think I was on my way as quickly as possible to my beloved farm in Lineville, Alabama where I lived as a child. A large portion of the farm Sandy and I own today was part of the Reynolds family farm in Lineville. I raise cattle on that farm and my 101 year old father is in the nursing home close to it. I travel to Lineville twice a month and spend at least some of my vacation and many holidays there.
When some of my friends and church members heard that I had been appointed to Decatur First, they told me they were disappointed for me because they had hoped the Bishop would move me closer to my farm. Daddy has called twice to ask how this move will affect my ability to visit him and serve as his power of attorney. Decatur First is 31 miles farther away from Lineville than Latham in Huntsville, but the travel time will be 20 minutes less because I will now drive most of the way on the interstate. The travel time is 2 hours 40 minutes instead of 3 hours.
Pastoral appointments in the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church are made in a closed session between the bishop and the eight members of her cabinet. One of those members is my district superintendent who represented me. He had met with me and had my input but was not allowed to disclose to me specific churches for which I was being considered. From what I have learned about the process, I was nominated for several positions, some of which would have taken me closer to the farm and my father and some farther away. I can tell you that when I gave my district superintendent my priorities, moving closer to the farm was not one of them.
My first priority was and is to be a good match for the people I will serve. I believe this match is made when both the pastor and the church listen to and respect the life stories and faith journeys of the other. We will find our sweet spot where our stories and journeys intersect. There we will grow together and do our part of ushering God’s Kingdom into our community and world.
My second priority was and is to allow Sandy to continue her work in Huntsville until she is ready to retire. We were willing to live apart, as some of our pastors and superintendents do now, if there was no appointment within commuting distance for her that met our first priority (above). Decatur is within commuting distance.
My third priority was and is to be accessible and available to my family. Sandy and I have children and grandchildren in Daphne, 350 miles from Huntsville, and my father still lives in Lineville. Of course this priority would become #1 if there was an emergency. We have had to accept that under normal conditions, being with family will require travel in order to honor our first two priorities.
Returning to live at or near the farm before I retire was not one of my priorities. My ideal world would be where churches I could most effectively serve, Sandy’s work, my children and grandchildren, my father, and our farm and house on the lake were all in one place. That place is the Garden of Eden where no one lives anymore. In The Land That Calls Me Home, nostalgia for the Eden of my childhood does ooze out in a few places. The thrust of the book, however, is toward the future and not the past. Overcoming our estrangement from the soil is a requirement for living in the future Kingdom of God, and that starts where you and I live right now. For me overcoming estrangement from the soil in Decatur will include gardening wherever I can, in raised beds or containers in my backyard or with others in a community garden.
On a larger scale, overcoming estrangement from the soil
will include finding ways for the church to engage in ministries that help them and others reconnect with the soil. In my present appointment, I was in my 6th year when a few members helped me grow vegetables at a neighboring church garden for CASA, a ministry assisting low income seniors. I was in my 8th year when Latham started a Farmers Market that will continue to connect city dwellers and small-scale farmers in the area long after I am gone.
How we will restore a healthy relationship between people and the good, life-giving earth while I am in Decatur, I do not yet know. I do know that we will to the extent that we experience more fully the Kingdom of God on earth. And that is certainly the hope and prayer I have for my ministry with the people of Decatur First UMC. They and I will fulfill God’s call on our lives as we use the influence we have as God’s church in this place to impact the planet by bringing the Kingdom of God more fully upon it. The day will come for me to return to the farm. Today the fields are in Decatur ready for planting, ready for cultivating, ready for God to give the growth until the harvest.