For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven..." (Ecclesiastes 3:1)
November 4, 2018 Interim Search Committee Announced
At the November 4th Congregational meeting the following members of the Interim Search Committee were announced: Rebecca Molis (chair), Bryan Thornhill, Logan DeCleene, David Heckler, Stacy Hackenberg and Samantha Laurence.
October 24, 2018
"What Does It Mean for a Pastor to 'Leave Well'?"
from Rev. John MacIver Gage
I once heard a comedian say, "All relationships end poorly. That's why they end."
I couldn't disagree more.
Only God is eternal; everything else passes away. As the wise writer of Ecclesiastes put it, long before The Byrds so famously sang it, "For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven." And in both our personal and professional lives, everything, every relationship, comes to an end, including the relationship between a pastor and a congregation. But I believe it is possible for them to end well, for us to bring these relationships to a close with care and respect and, indeed, with love. That's my hope as we draw near to the end of our relationship-yours and mine-as senior pastor and congregation at United Christian Church of Austin.
Both pastors and congregations have their own calls from God, our own lives' work, and sometimes those calls bring us together, sometimes for a little while and sometimes for longer. Earlier this year, I began to feel that my work here in Austin was drawing to a close and God was calling me elsewhere. It's not that things here are bad. (Trust me, I have enough colleagues around the country, I feel I have a pretty good idea what "bad" looks like, and this ain't it.) But I do believe that just as God called us together for a season almost five years ago to worship and work together here, God is calling us now to part and continue following our calls to ministry in different directions.
My call will take me next to Massachusetts, where I will enter into a new pastoral relationship with the folks at the Congregational Church of Needham. In order to do that well, I first need to end my professional pastoral relationship here as well and clearly as I can. That means, once I officially leave, I will not check up on the church or its members, nor will I offer pastoral care or support or advice in any way, whether in-person or via social media. That's not because I won't still care about you but because, ethically, as a professional, I can no longer care for you as your pastor.
I do hope you will remain a part of this congregation after I'm gone, if that is your call, to continue being part of United Christian Church of Austin. The saying is simple but true and it bears repeating: A church is never just a pastor-not any pastor! I believe strongly that, quite apart from me, this congregation is called by God to serve this community and is richly blessed to carry out that ministry.
But you will undertake the next part of your journey here without me. Once I leave, you will have an opportunity to spend a significant amount of time reflecting on who and what God is calling you to be and do together; reflecting on the past and imagining the future; identifying and addressing any unresolved issues in the life of the church; and taking an inventory of all those gifts; all this with the help of a skilled interim minister, someone whose own call from God is to help you prepare to enter into that new relationship, when it comes, as healthily and whole-heartedly as possible.
Before we get there, though, in these last few weeks together, it's our job, yours and mine, to do what we can to end this relationship well. It's time to remember and laugh and cry, to take stock of all that we've done together, and to ask for and offer forgiveness for our shortcomings over these last years, to bring this relationship to a close not simply smoothly, but as gracefully as possible. Toward that end, I am making myself as available as possible to have these important conversations, short or long. I hope you will take me up on that offer, if you that's something you'd like to do. We'll get a chance to do it more formally all together in our Service of Leave-Taking and Letting Go Sunday, 11/18 @ 10am.
Friends, through all this, I hope you will continue to trust God, and trust that, as our forebears in faith believed, God has "yet more light and truth to break forth" not only from God's holy word, but from God's living Word made flesh and blood in the life of United Christian Church of Austin, in your life here together.
Rev. John MacIver Gage, senior minister
United Christian Church of Austin, UCC/DOC
At the October 16th Council Meeting, the council voted to create an Interim Search Committee chaired by Rebecca Molis to search for an Interim Minister in the coming months. This Interim Search Committee will be comprised of five church members. Over the next two weeks, the Council will be working to identify (and vote on) the four additional members for this committee with hopes of announcing the full committee at the congregational meeting. If you have an interest in participating on this committee, please contact Rebecca Molis.
October 11, 2018
So, Our Senior Pastor is Leaving. Now What?
from Rev. Nikki Stahl
Times of pastoral transition in a church can be challenging. Since Rev. John’s letter of resignation went out, I’ve been asked more than a few times, and anxiously, “Now what?” Folks in our church are stressed over this news, and understandably so, as we try to process what it means for us as a congregation and individual members. And uncertainty about what lies ahead can add anxiety, and although anxiety, in itself, isn’t a bad thing, if it’s not recognized and addressed, it can lead to poorly thought-out decisions and actions. As with so much in life, it’s not the change itself that’s the challenge, but how we manage it, together.
In these conversations, I’ve been reminded of the diversity of faith backgrounds represented among our members. Some of us were raised in congregational churches like our United Church of Christ and Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) denominational families. But many come from traditions where a bishop or someone higher up the church governance chain would “assign” the next minister, who would magically appear shortly after the former minister or priest left. In other churches, a small, behind-the-scenes group of leaders would call the new minister with little or no input from the congregation. Other traditions promote senior pastors from within, as if it were a given that an associate minister would step in to that position. Still others of us have had no experience with ministerial transitions at all.
Rest assured, though, ministerial transitions are a regular part of church life! Pastors following their calls from God do move on to serve other congregations or settings; in fact, research shows that, on average today, most pastors remain in a given congregation for just 4-6 years. Which means that what we are experiencing now is normal.
So, if this is a normal—but challenging—situation, what happens now? What can we expect in this time of transition? Well, being affiliated with our two denominational families, we are doubly-blessed, because both offer support for congregations in transition and a search and call process to help them—us--find our next pastor. The process in both--which may take as much as a year or more, if done well—is very similar, as outlined below:
*For more information on the general search and call process in our denominations, see:
and UCC: www.uccfiles.com/pdf/S-C-Guide-for-Congregations.pdf
As a pastor myself, I have no control or involvement (nor should I) in this process other than providing my input for the local church profile and pastorally supporting this working group and the council and you. My hope is that this insight into how the process works will help relieve some of your anxiety. Our church leaders are committed to sharing as much information about and updates on the process as is appropriate at every step of our journey together, including at our Congregational Meeting coming up Sunday, November 4th at 10am.
Please continue to ask your questions and share your concerns. Being open and honest, each of us, about where we are at, how we are feeling, and what challenges we are facing will help us live through this transition as a community, as a church together.
I’ll also add here, if you feel you would like to talk to Rev. John directly, I encourage you to do that. Part of his job right now is to say good-bye, to try to leave well. This is a time for giving thanks or even reconciling differences, an opportunity to see God in each other and how God is calling us to different tasks right now, and to honor that!
We will have an opportunity to do this together on Sunday, November 18th at 10am, Rev. John’s last Sunday with us, when we will share a service centered around leave-taking and letting go, using a liturgy for that purpose in the UCC’s Book of Worship. The service allows a space for the pastor and congregation to unbind themselves from the vows made at their installation and make new ones appropriate to the new relationship they are entering. Both DOC and UCC denominational representatives have been invited to attend and participate in this service.
Despite my sadness over Rev. John’s departure, I am excited about our calls—both Rev. John’s new call at the Congregational Church of Needham and our call here at United Christian Church of Austin. God is Still Speaking! And God is still doing great things! I’m honored to be on this journey with you.
Rev. Nikki Stahl, LMSW
September 30, 2018
from Rev. John MacIver Gage
Dear Members and Friends of United Christian Church,
Nearly five years after I first was called here to United Christian Church of Austin to serve as your senior minister, I write today to tender my resignation from this position and give my required 60 days notice. As of their vote today, I have been called to serve as senior minister of the Congregational Church of Needham, Massachusetts.
Please know that I did not make the decision to search for a new call lightly. There has been much in our time together that has been good, even very good. With the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, we have learned and grown in our faith together. We’ve shared ministry in the pumpkin patch, the Tuesday noontime study group, rallies and period parties and prayer; in particular, I will remain forever grateful for the gift of sharing holy communion every Sunday. However, I believe the time has come for me to leave so that we all can continue to grow more fully into the disciples God is calling us to be, with our particular gifts and graces.
This is a time to remember that, though I have served as a pastor here a while, you are the church and you have both a history and a future apart from me; indeed, you have your own call from God as a congregation. That will continue. You will continue. And this transition will be a time when you can work together to clarify and refine your sense of mission.
My last Sunday in worship will be November 18, the Sunday before Thanksgiving, when we will share a service of leave-taking and letting go. That gives us plenty of time to celebrate and grieve, and for you as a congregation to begin to make plans for the season of deep discernment ahead. Between here and there, we will fill our time with good, hard, heartfelt goodbyes.
I have been honored, happy, and humbled to journey with you as a pastor at United Christian Church. I believe God has more—more grace, more work—in store for us as we part ways. I ask your prayers for me in this ending and this new beginning and ask you to trust that my prayers remain with you, as well.
Rev. John MacIver Gage
September 30, 2018
Response to Resignation Letter
from the Executive Committee and Rev. John's Pastoral Support Team
Dear Members and Friends of United Christian Church,
As you read above, Rev. John MacIver Gage has accepted a call to be the new Senior Minister for the Congregational Church of Needham, Massachusetts. While saddened by this turn of events, we are grateful for John’s time with our congregation and pray for a smooth transition for him and success in his ministry with his new congregation.
Here is a schedule of important dates leading up to John’s departure:
During this time of our own transition, we want to reassure you that the ministries we all love at United Christian Church will continue without interruption, particularly during the upcoming Advent and Christmas seasons, when our other pastoral and professional staff will step up to take the lead. In the meantime, we will work with our denominational leaders to look for a gifted intentional Interim Senior Minister to begin in the new year.
In the months following, the Church Council will recommend, and the congregation will empower a Search Committee to find our next Senior Minister. This committee will consist of a diverse group of church members chosen by the Church Council and approved by the congregation. They will lead us in conversation to determine how we believe God is calling our congregation and the sort of pastoral leadership we hope will help us get there. Then they will begin a nationwide search for that pastor, reading profiles and interviewing qualified applicants, until eventually they will bring forward a single candidate for the congregation to vet and vote on. Along the way, they will provide regular updates to the congregation on their progress.
In this time of change, we invite you to remember that God is in control and will be with this church at all times; indeed, God’s presence is vital for the life of the church, as is your presence and participation as members. Supported by the Spirit, we are free to feel whatever we need to feel—grief, confusion, hope. We are a family, a family of God, and God has promised that “all things will work together for good,” the good of God’s people.
Yours in Christ,
The UCC Executive Committee and Senior Minister Support Team
Chris McCubbin, Chair
Tony Hunt, Vice Chair
Laurie Thornhill, Secretary
Dean Jones, Treasurer
Rev. Nikki Stahl, Associate Pastor
Bryan Thornhill, Senior Minister Support Team
Rebecca Molis, Senior Minister Support Team