It is so good to have Joel back, and I want to thank all of you who helped me make a summer of being the solo pastor for CMC go so smoothly. In the last few days before Joel left for his sabbatical, he started sending me detailed lists of things to remember while he was gone, which included ministerial minutiae like making sure to blow out the Peace Candle after worship each Sunday. It was at this point that myself and the rest of the office staff assured him, “We got this,” and shooed him out the door to relax.
I’m not going to claim that the last three months were perfect, but the building didn’t burn down, so there’s at least that.
Throughout the summer, people would regularly ask how I was handling Joel being gone, but the different ways these questions were phrased gave me pause. A number of people jokingly asked how it felt to be the “head honcho.” Others asked what it was like to be “the boss.” And toward the end of the summer, more than once I was asked how I was feeling about “handing power back to Joel.”
I realize that most of these were light-hearted comments meant simply to check in with me to make sure I was doing ok, and the response I started to give most people was that I had been sorely disappointed to learn that being the “big cheese” didn’t come with any literal cheese.
But the questions about handing over power really gave me pause. I want to be the first to recognize that a pastoral role carries with it a certain level of power and authority. The Church gets into trouble when it fails to recognize this. But at the same time, I think it is important to point out that here at CMC we strive to practice a kind of shared power where the pastor is not the only one making decisions and calling the shots. More than once this past summer, I had to tell people that I didn’t have the authority to unilaterally make this or that decision but would get back to them once I had discerned with the appropriate people.
I was reflecting with someone recently about their experience in a different congregation that had a much more hierarchical structure, and I realized how thankful I am that CMC doesn’t expect their pastor(s) to hold all (or even most) of the power. Church polity, which is the fancy way of talking about how decisions are made, is ultimately about power, and I am thankful that CMC practices a polity that strives to reflect Jesus’ example of servant leadership and communal power.
So no, I don’t think I’m ready to hand power back over to Joel because any power I had throughout the summer was already a shared power. However, I am ready to welcome Joel back home and see what gifts and wisdom his sabbatical will bring to the life of our community as we discern together where God is calling us.