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Grant gives pastor, congregation chance for renewal, look to future

Grant gives pastor, congregation chance for renewal, look to future

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Grant gives pastor, congregation chance for renewal, look to future

By Larry Macke | March 1, 2010 {1144}

NOTE: A headshot of the Rev. Bob Brown is available at

Under the United Methodist system of itinerant pastoral ministry, pastors serve at the behest of the bishop, who, along with his or her district superintendents, strives to keep congregations matched with leadership possessing the gifts necessary to satisfy the needs of the flock.

Shifting circumstances in a congregation lead to shifting needs, and in order to meet them, leadership, too, must change — either personally or through reappointment. This oversight helps ensure that congregations remain vital and pastors stay refreshed, engaged and able to attend to the needs of the people, not to mention their own.

Rev. Bob Brown

The Rev. Bob Brown, senior pastor at Coronado Community United Methodist Church in New Smyrna Beach, is in his 29th year of service to a congregation that currently has more than 1,200 members — the longest current tenure of any elder in the Florida Conference. Having just turned 60, that’s nearly half his life. During that time, Brown’s ministry has evolved along with the church as it experienced some of its most significant growth in 105 years of ministry.

Although that longevity has given Brown and his family — his wife, Becky Rutland, and their three sons — a consistency most other clergy families have not experienced, Brown also hasn’t had the opportunity to experience other faith communities or the spiritual refill that many other Florida Conference clergy experience with more varied appointments.

Brown is getting that recharge, now, through the Lilly Endowment’s National Clergy Renewal Program. Every year since 2000, the Lilly Endowment has invited Christian congregations to apply for grants of up to $50,000 to support an extended period of intentional reflection that ministers, working with their congregations, design to suit their own needs and aspirations for pastoral renewal. Of the 149 congregations the endowment chose for this year’s class of grant recipients, seven are in Florida, with Brown the only United Methodist pastor.

“I had applied twice before, back in 2002 and 2003, and it didn’t work out,” Brown said. “I approached the church council early this year about trying again, and they were very supportive.”

Part of the support was rooted in a church coming to terms with the idea that Brown would not be “Coronado’s Pastor Bob” forever, according to Bobbi Wilson, the church’s council chair.

Coronado Community United Methodist Church

“In light of the fact that at some point he will retire, it seemed like the right time for him to take a break and reassess what he wants to do with the next 10 or so years of his life,” Wilson said. “We also saw this as an opportunity for the church to face reality and ask ourselves, ‘Who are we without Bob?’ ”

“The workload and lifestyle of most pastors are difficult for many to understand,” says Craig Dykstra, Lilly Endowment senior vice president for religion. “So many activities command a pastor’s time and attention — often urgent activities, like leading worship, counseling, visiting the sick and grieving — and there is little time left for the pastor to attend to his or her own spiritual growth, reflection and family life.”

Family life turns out to be another theme in Brown’s story. Two of his sons have grown and moved to opposite sides of the country, and the youngest, Randy, 27, has severe cerebral palsy and is cared for by his parents. Even among other United Methodist pastors in their 29th year of service at the same congregation — which is a fairly select group — Brown has had less time than most to attend to his own spiritual growth and reflection while attending to his family’s needs.

Brown has been developing a strong interest in ecological tourism, however, which coincidentally echoed the theme of the 2009 Florida Annual Conference Event, “Transforming the World by Cherishing the Creation.”

“(New Smyrna’s Cordova area is) located between the intracoastal waterway and the Atlantic Ocean, which is just a magnificent spot to enjoy nature,” Brown enthusiastically says. “We’ve had so many youth groups from Ohio stay overnight at our church and never take the time to appreciate the ocean and the lagoon. They go off to Orlando to see Disney World, but they forget to enjoy God’s world.”

With the Clergy Renewal Program, Brown and his wife will be experiencing God’s world May 23-Sept. 19. The Lilly Endowment encourages family involvement in the renewal, so part of Brown’s itinerary will include travels with Becky and Randy to visit his parents in the mountains of North Carolina and his other children and grandchildren in California and Virginia. A portion of the grant also will cover care for Randy in Florida while the Browns travel.

Other highlights include two weeks in South America visiting Machu Picchu and the Galapagos Islands; in Florida, a houseboat ride down the St. John’s River and visits to state parks and ecotourism sites; in California, the great redwood forests, Yosemite Valley and the Tassajara Zen Mountain Retreat Center; and in Virginia, a stay at the Friends Wilderness Center, a Quaker retreat.

“A pastor is supposed every week to have some insight, wisdom and guidance to give, and after 39 years in this role, there is a danger of simply saying what is expected,” Brown wrote in a recent church newsletter. “A time away opens the door for the unexpectedness of God’s Spirit. I do not know where I will be led spiritually, and that is frightening … biblical … and exhilarating.”

Meanwhile, back in New Smyrna Beach, Coronado’s associate pastor, the Rev. Esther Robinson, and members and leaders will be undergoing their own reflection, guided by a steering committee dedicated to assembling a plan of goals for the church and communicating them. Up to $15,000 of the Lilly grant can be used to benefit the congregation by paying for worship and pastoral care support and/or renewal activities while the pastor is away.

“We need to take this opportunity as seriously as Pastor Bob is,” Wilson says. “A few are worried about the change, but by and large the congregation is excited for Bob and ready to undertake this journey.”

News media contact: Tita Parham, 800-282-8011,, Orlando

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Macke is a freelance writer based in Vero Beach, Fla.