Pastors With New Appointments Get Right Start

The Rev. Harold Hendren is moving this year. After 14 years as pastor of Faith United Methodist Church in Boynton Beach, he will become pastor of New Covenant UMC in The Villages on July 1, succeeding the Rev. Don Hanna, who is moving to St. James UMC in Palatka.

The two pastors spent a good bit of time talking to each other recently at a seminar organized by the Florida Conference’s Center for Clergy Excellence. The seminar, dubbed The Right Start, is designed to help pastors who are receiving new appointments make a good transition for themselves and their successors.
“We take for granted that things will be set up a certain way and there will be a positive and smooth transition,” Hendren said. “This gives us a forum to have open dialogue about what we would like to see happen. … Everyone has anxiety when they’re making a change.”
The Rev. David Dodge
The seminar was conducted May 10-12 in Lakeland in two parts, one for clergy already holding appointments who will be moving and one for clergy who are receiving their first appointment or are new to the Conference. More than 60 pastors are changing appointments this year, and another 22 will be receiving their first appointment.
It is the first time the Conference has conducted a seminar for pastors in transition, and the Cabinet unanimously made attendance mandatory, said the Rev. David Dodge, director of the Center for Clergy Excellence. In the past, there was an orientation session for new clergy, held about a month after they had been on the job. That orientation wasn’t very satisfactory, he said.
“It was like ‘Open your mouth and drink from a fire hose.’ We would dump all this information on them and hope they might remember some of it. The feedback we got was that they wished they had known this day one on the job. And, looking at the whole issue of clergy moving, we realized there was nothing for people already appointed,” Dodge said.
The Right Start uses video and printed materials from the Lewis Center for Church Leadership at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C. Some of the video segments feature talks by the Center’s director, Prof. Lovett H. Weems Jr.
Participants in the Right Start seminar for pastors changing appointments watch a video in the fellowship hall of United Methodist Temple in Lakeland on May 10. (Photo by Cary McMullen)
Among the advice offered to the pastors in transition:
  • Prepare a list of important lay people that the new pastor should get to know and prepare a second list of people in the community.
  • Defer important decisions and projects, but resist the temptation to stop working.
  • As the time comes to leave, try to reconcile with people with whom you’ve clashed.
  • Use rituals to help the congregation let go of the outgoing pastor and welcome the new one.
“It really focuses on the covenantal aspect of who we are. Some pastors know how to do this intuitively. This will be a help to those who are new at this. And some who are good at leadership are not necessarily good at starting or leaving well,” Dodge said.
At the seminar for already-appointed clergy, held at United Methodist Temple in Lakeland, the Rev. Tim Smiley, superintendent of the North East District, used the story of the call of Abraham in Genesis 12 to illustrate the spiritual dimensions of the pastors’ changes.
The Rev. Cathy Thacker
“You have to recapture the biblical sense of being on a journey. This is a day of journey for you. Our Wesleyan heritage has the DNA of being able to help people with the journey. I invite you to reflect on what it means to hear, ‘Get up and go to a place I will show you,’” he said.
The Rev. Cathy Thacker, who will be moving from St. Andrews UMC in Winter Park to First UMC in Lake Alfred, said the seminar was helpful in providing checklists and suggested rituals that could help her and her successor.
“To me, that’s what we’re about. Being connected means helping us to say goodbye graciously,” she said.

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