We at Old First were accurate last winter when we started saying that we were at the midpoint of our three-year congregational Covenant for Revitalization with the Penn Southeast Conference of the UCC and our Covenant Pastor, Rev. Michael Caine. But now it’s summer. August 2 marks the beginning of the Covenant’s third and final year and so it is time to plan for what happens after the Covenant ends next August.
The Covenant has provided us with a special kind of pastoral leadership. Michael was identified by the Conference, and chosen from among the Conference’s nominees by a representative group of church leaders, because he had the skills, experience and personal calling to lead us in, in the words of our agreement, “an intensive covenant of congregational revitalization and renewal.” He and we have been diligent and faithful to that charge and will continue to be so during the coming year. When we entered the Covenant we agreed to focus on revitalization and not on permanent pastoral leadership, and therefore we agreed to not issue a call to the Covenant Pastor during the three years of the Covenant. The Elders are now initiating a three-step process that will ensure that Old First has pastoral leadership as of August 2, 2012 as we move beyond the Covenant and into continued congregational revitalization. The final decision will be made next year, but this process could involve extending Michael’s term as pastor while we discern God’s will for Old First in the future.
The first step in the process is to assess our revitalization effort. With leadership from the Revitalization Task Force, the Board of Elders, and the pastor we will spend this fall and particularly next spring evaluating how far we have come and where we want to go from here. What have we done and why? Did it accomplish what we wanted it to? Why or why not? Did it accomplish something unexpected? Why? Did something unexpected accomplish what we wanted? How have we changed as a congregation to be more welcoming to more of the people God wants us to welcome and to serve? What should we do now to continue to grow in all the ways we want to grow? We’ll discuss and answer these and similar questions in a variety of formats between now and next summer. By 8.2.12 we’ll have a pretty good idea of how far we’ve come with revitalization and where we want to go from there.
The second step is to ensure that Old First has pastoral leadership after the Covenant ends. Our Covenant agreement says that “at the conclusion of the third year of the Covenant, with the consent of the Pastor and of the congregation of Old First Reformed, UCC, the pastor may be called by the congregation to thereafter serve as its Called Pastor.” The consent of Pastor and congregation, however, must flow from mutual discernment of the will of God. Covenant churches have secured pastoral leadership in various ways after their Covenants ended and it is up to us, guided by standard UCC practices, to decide how to arrange for leadership immediately after the Covenant ends and how to discern and call our next pastor. At Old First, we will make sure that we have pastoral leadership in place when the Covenant ends and then we will enter a process of discernment. Final arrangements for continued pastoral leadership will be made closer to the time but at present the Elders and Michael are willing to extend his service for a designated period of time after August 1, 2012.
The third step is discernment. As they do in the traditional search process when they appoint a pastoral search committee, the Elders will appoint a pastoral discernment task force, representative of the congregation, to discern God’s will for Old First’s pastoral leadership as the congregation enters its 285th year. The group will begin its work in August 2012 and will recommend an action to the congregation at a congregational meeting prior to the end of the temporary arrangement for pastoral leadership.
This three-step process will ensure that we focus on revitalization until our covenant for revitalization is complete, that Old First has pastoral leadership in place when the covenant ends, and that we are ready at that moment to hear and to follow the Spirit of God in discerning and calling Old First’s next pastor.
Bob Schneider for the Board of Elders and Officers