Wednesday, June 29, 2005

First Sundays

I’m not a bishop, but I play one in Africa!

One of my responsibilities as Mission Director is appointment-making. All of you United Methodists know what that means … “Appointment time” is that time of year that either fills you with dread (yikes -- your dearly beloved pastor might be moved!) or grand expectation (hallelujah – your despised pastor might be moved!).

I made my first true appointment change two weeks ago. It wasn’t a huge to-do, really. Pastor Jean-Blaise Bikoy has been pastoring two churches for a couple of years now -- Bethany UMC in Monatele and Bethesda UMC in Sa’a. The two are separated by a significant distance, and Pastor Bikoy was finding it difficult to give both churches enough attention.
It appeared clear to me that a change needed to be made, but I had never made a decision like this. Especially by myself! At least bishops have cabinets to advise them.

I spoke to Pastor Bikoy myself to hear his concerns and hopes. I spoke to the Mission Office Assistant, Pastor Billong for his advice. I listened to the congregation. I prayed. And I worried and fretted.

Should I move him? Where? Who will replace him? Can we afford it? What if I make a bad decision?

And finally, after weeks of worrying whether my first appointment decision would be disastrous … I made a decision.

In the end, I moved Pastor Bikoy on to Monatele exclusively. At the same time, I hired a new pastor, Jean-Raymond Bakoa, to handle the church at Sa’a.

In some ways, it was a risky move. I’m not absolutely positive that the Mission will be able to afford a new pastor in the long-term, for one thing. But I had to do something. After listening to the congregation, the pastor, and to the Holy Spirit, I went out on the limb of faith and simply acted.

But I am happily becoming very impressed by Jean-Raymond’s pastoral skills. He brings a flush of enthusiasm and energy to a church that looks a little rundown and ragged. Maybe the change will do the congregation good.

Not only are they getting a new pastor, but we have moved them into a new building – a large warehouse on the side of a main road in Sa’a. Last Sunday, I opened the new building and officially installed Jean-Raymond as pastor.

Jean-Raymond had spent the entire week painting the building, cutting the brush out front, and arranging chairs. An arch of palm leaves graced the entrance of the building. He had a fresh glow about him, as he welcomed a small group of about twenty people into the building. It was a modest beginning, no doubt. But I know that he has high hopes for his new appointment.

It reminded me of my many “first Sundays” at new pastoral appointments. First Sundays are always a combination of frazzled nerves and giddy excitement. Whenever I climbed into a new pulpit for the first time, I always felt as if something fantastic was going to happen, as if I were Billy Graham about to convert an entire city!

That never happened, of course, but the feeling was there anyway. It’s the way every pastor should feel when he or she takes on a new congregation – full of anticipation, optimistic. You have to believe that the church will grow bigger than the existing building, change society, change the very course of history!

I saw all of that in Pastor Jean-Raymond on Sunday. It was a very good first Sunday. And I hope to report that Sa’a will never be the same again.