By Fred Koenig
I found this note on the back of an offering envelope in church one morning.
My first thought was perhaps it had been written by Senior Pastor Fred Leist and passed to one of the acolytes. It was his first Sunday preaching at Missouri UMC. There were some issues with the air conditioning, and it was hot. And he was preaching his third sermon that morning. Having been serving as a District Superintendent prior to this appointment, he may have been a little out of practice as a senior pastor. He was probably ready for church to be over that morning.
About six months later we were in our usual position for the Christmas Eve service: balcony – altar-left. It’s a great seat because you have a straight on view on the bell choir (balcony, altar right) that no one on the main floor or in the rear balcony can see at all. Watching the bell choir is wonderful, but the real reason these have become the traditional seats for my family is that they are the only seats that remain when we show up for the 7 p.m. Christmas Eve service. We never get anywhere early during the Advent or Christmas season. (Knowing you have to start getting ready earlier is inspiration behind sharing Advent stories with you in this August issue.)
The reason the balcony, altar-left seats are the last to fill is that they are a bit behind podium, so the preacher has his or her back to you for most of the sermon. But last year from that position my son spotted something no one else could see. “Dad, he’s got a medicine ball up there!” he said. Not knowing it was hidden there for sermon illustration later in the service, my son was impressed that this new guy was so serious about his strength conditioning that he kept a medicine ball close at hand to squeeze in workouts when he wasn’t preaching.
Now Rev. Leist is in his second year at Missouri, and it is just like he’s always been there. Many other churches around Missouri were welcoming their new pastor this past month. When I ran into Rev. Ann Mowery (pastor of Saint Luke’s UMC in St. Louis at the time) and her husband Don, they were excited to tell me about the Summer Café program at their church that you will read about on page 6 of this issue. Don had dived head first into this ministry when he retired six years ago. It has a certain precision and efficiency about it that may have been shaped by Don’s experience in business with Nestle Purina or as a technical trainer with McDonnel Health Systems. Wherever it came from, Don also knows transitions are important. In anticipating Ann’s retirement, he made sure fellow church member Shari Scott knew everything he knew, so she could take over his role when he left.
To say I caught them mid-transition is an understatement. When I picked a day and asked to meet with them to report on this story, Don and Ann met me in the morning, showed me the setup that the ministry operates out of at the church, drove me around to three lunch drop-off locations, took me back to the church, then got back in their pickup truck and left Saint Luke’s forever. Ann had just retired and showing me around for this story was the last thing they did on their way out of town.
In the June issue of The Missouri Methodists you read about Right Start, an annual event geared to help Missouri Conference clergy make smooth transitions as they move. In this issue you’ll read about licensing school, a week-long training that helps new pastors get going in the right direction. Whether someone is on the moving end of things or receiving people who are new – the message is the same. We need to give each other a lot of grace during times of transition. Someone may be hungry and wondering when church is over.