It's pretty much a given in the life of a United Methodist preacher - there'll come that day when you have to stack your books in boxes, stuff all the pictures and mementoes the kids have made through the years into containers, and load your clothes and furniture in a moving van. A few of us, a precious few, land in a spot and put down roots, but the vast bulk know we only call a place home for a little while.
Maybe that knowledge makes moving a little easier. Maybe. The truth is that places still become home and the folks in a church and a community become family, all adding up to make letting go and moving on a hard chore. Roots grow quickly, and digging them up is no easy, light-hearted task.
In less than two months, Regina and I will bid farewell to a place and a people we've come to love and cherish over the last six years. Providence Church threw their arms open to us in 2016 and they've given us the honor of being a part of their lives ever since. They've allowed me to stand with them as their loved ones left this earth and they've smiled and introduced me to the little ones they've welcomed into this world. I've baptized them and their children, conducted a few of their weddings, and worshipped Sunday in and Sunday out with them. I've been the recipient of their prayers and they walked with me through this crazy pandemic that shook up life as we've known it.
They've been a busy church and a loving, caring church. Every week I watch backpacks filled with food leave our church to go home with hungry children for the weekend. They return empty, and the next week they head out full again. These folks volunteer all over the community; they build houses for others; they provide neonatal care packages, Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes, and prayer shawls, just to mention a few things. They are forever out in front of me figuring out one more way to share the love and grace of Jesus with others. What a witness!
Two years ago, they celebrated with us when Hazel, our granddaughter was born, and since then, they've smiled and been patient as I've shown countless pictures and videos. When our oldest son, Miles, decided to ride a bicycle all the way across the United States, they prayed with us for him and they celebrated each week as we shared his progress. They've been our church family in every sense of the word, supporting us as Regina's mother, father, and grandmother faced health challenges. We could never have asked for more nor expected better than what they've given us.
Yet, it is time. We prayerfully made the decision to seek an appointment closer to Regina's hometown of Warner Robins, Georgia. Doing so will allow us to continue in pastoral ministry while being more involved in the lives of her parents. Thus, in June I'll become the pastor of Fort Valley United Methodist Church.
It's different in many ways from Providence. Fort Valley began ministry 182 years ago in 1840 while Providence is not yet 27 years old. Providence is in a bustling suburban community south of Atlanta and Fort Valley is a more rural county seat. Fort Valley Church is a smaller congregation, and their sanctuary has stained glass and wooden pews; Providence is more contemporary with chairs and no windows at all in the sanctuary.
Differences, sure, but I already suspect they share much more in common. Both are filled with people who love Jesus and care about their community. Both want to see others come to know the grace of Christ. Both long to make a difference in their corner of the world. Fort Valley, like Providence, will quickly become home to us and her people will soon be our new family.
Letting go will be hard, I know, but we do so with the confidence that the Lord is in this move and that He precedes us on this journey. We believe that Providence will flourish under the leadership and service of Brent Ward, their incoming pastor, and his wife Laurie, and I already feel the welcome of the people of Fort Valley. I remain certain that God is with us, all of us, no matter where . . .