From staying 'a year' to becoming a 'settled pastor'

Posted: Sunday, September 06, 2009

People in Juneau frequently laughed when I tell them I moved here to be interim pastor for one year. I was shocked how many people said they too moved here for one year, 20 years ago, 15 years ago, 10 years ago ...

Apparently these people know how Alaska, and Juneau in particular, grows on many of us. Alaska calls us with adventure, wilderness and beauty. Even the rainy summer of 2008 and the snow last winter didn't turn me away.

Our community here is a mix of those who have been in Alaska forever, those who've been here for decades and those who are more transitory in nature. Coming here with plans to be here "only one year," I was met with some level of sympathy, "Oh, moving here from Hawaii, that's a big adjustment."

And yet, as with many communities, in order to gain access further into the full participation of community, takes time and commitment. Longtime residents want to see if you will really take root and what fruits you will bear for the community itself.

While Methodists have a history of riding "circuits" before the founding of our country, we are now staying longer in our church appointments. United Methodists do not use interim pastors often. It is a new practice for us. Having been trained in Intentional Interim Ministry, I was adhering to the strict practice of ethical standards that the interim pastor will not seek to stay as the "settled" pastor. But then, as many people in our community said, "this is Alaska." With the change of bishops there was always that small possibility that I might be asked to stay. The church made that request and with prayer and discernment, the bishop announced that I would be appointed as the "settled" pastor.

So now, its time to settle in, to shift from the interim focus of assessing the church with a peripheral eye on the community to connecting with the community in a deeper way. In our mobile society finding and making community is an essential part of healthy living. For the most part our western culture focuses on a nuclear family with few opportunities to connect beyond school and work. Many individuals and families suffer from lack of connections.

One of the reasons I came to Juneau was because I missed being a part of a spiritual community. Community is one of the gifts churches can offer. Aldersgate is a place where people of different generations can connect with each other. Families with young children whose grandparents are far away find supportive presence of other elders. Teens play with babies. For a small church we represent a great variety of ethnic backgrounds. And because our vision is "Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors," people with differing political views sit side-by-side in worship together. We are far from perfect, but we are committed to practicing community together.

Churches vary in what they offer and pastors do, too. When asked to describe my ministry's uniqueness, one of our church leaders said: "creativity, spirituality, and inclusivity." This last year in my interim ministry, we've offered the community of Juneau a taste of that in the Interfaith Thanksgiving service, Interplay workshop and classes, Earth Day celebration, hosting of Yees Ku Oo and the Tlingit Gospel Singers, Cultures of Peace workshop, study on progressive Christianity, co-hosting a Blessing of the Animals and more.

My approach to ministry is to invite the community to share in spiritual practices that I have found helpful for my own life. Rather than putting on a role as someone who has all of the answers, I find it more genuine to recognize we are all on the journey together.

We invite the community to come celebrate our appointment of a "settled pastor" and join us as we settle in and deepen our connections at 4 p.m. today at 9161 Cinema Drive, by the movie theater.

• Judy Shook is pastor of Aldersgate United Methodist Church.

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