Pastoral Installation: Charge to the Congregation and Minister

Photo by Frank Lamb

This is the full text of the charge and prayer offered by the Rev. Dr. D Elizabeth Mauro for my installation as settled minister of First Congregational Church of Saugatuck. The Rev. Dr. Mauro is Dean of the Center for Congregational Leadership. (Check out their Facebook Page!)

MAY 2, 2010

I cannot tell you how excited I am for this celebration.  The pageantry of this day is full of hope for the future; its liturgies full of praise to God for the coming together of pastor and people.  And while Rob settled among you some months ago, today is the formal celebration of your partnership together.  It is a day that marks new beginnings.  I am reminded of God’s words quoted by the prophet Isaiah:  God said “Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old.  I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?”  Today we all can say “yes!  Amen!  You bet we perceive it!”  That is the kind of day it is!  Not that the past doesn’t matter, but that today we focus on the new and the changes yet to come.  Not only can we perceive the change, but we can even embrace it!  It is the kind of change that doesn’t scare us or disturb us….not that there isn’t work to be done tomorrow and more change to follow.  But now is the time for celebrating and orienting ourselves in the joy of coming together for God’s work…a new chapter in the ministry of First Congregational Church of Saugatuck and a new call for Rob Brink, committed servant of God.

But the days are coming when change will not be as well received as it is today, when pastor and people may not be able to perceive God as the author of the changes you experience.  Instead of joy, there may be fear, disturbing disorientation, anger or overwhelming sadness.  Why do I say this?  Other than the fact I have over 22 years of experience in ministry, the God I know gathers us for his purposes, not our own, and God doesn’t always make it comfortable for us.  God constantly urges us into new expressions of service and faithfulness.  Change happens…change happens because the Spirit still broods over us, Christ still walks among us and God still calls us.  If you can remember that, trust it, and expect it, you will be able to embrace the inevitable changes to come by this partnership with as much joy and gusto as you do this day.

Photo by Frank Lamb

Rob, as you serve as pastor of this church, I charge you with these things.

First, stay close to the scriptures.  They have been written for our transformation and you have been called to help this community live into them.  It is your responsibility to teach the scriptures and draw people into its meanings, its prophecies, its comfort and discomfort.  St. Basil in the 300’s said “The study of scripture is the chief way of finding our duty.”  The Congregationalists said it another way. They said there should be no “dumb” reading of the scriptures, meaning no scripture should go un-translated, unexamined, or un-revealed.  Because the scriptures are about our transformation, when you bring people into them and do this faithfully, expect changes…all the way around.

Second, nurture yourself spiritually and relationally.  Pray, study, and perform your devotions with an open heart so that you can continue to grow in the sight of God.  You cannot ask people to grow and change if you are not doing the same.  When you do this, expect changes.

Third, remember, although you are the pastor, God has made us all spiritually equal.  You are no better or worse than any who gather here seeing your guidance.  You have much to learn from them.  They have much to learn from each other.  So nurture the lay ministry of this place not only so they might help you grow, but also so that they are not wholly dependent upon you for their nurture.  Every person here must be wholly dependent upon God alone, and then in the care of each other.  When you are wholly dependent upon God, expect changes.

Fourth, find wisdom, encouragement and renewal in fellowship with others…other clergy, other churches, other Congregationalists, locally and nationally.  Clergy burn out happens when pastors lose touch with others, working so long and hard that they forget they were created to be in relationships of mutual encouragement, professionally and personally.  When we connect with others in this way, expect changes.

Fifth, remember, this is not your ministry and this is not your church.  This is the body of Christ and this is Christ’s ministry.  You are a servant ready, willing and able to do as Christ calls you.  The minute you think otherwise, you will lose your way.  Offer yourself humbly to your Lord and change will be unavoidable.

No successful, transformative, healthy ministry is ever a one-person show.  If church and pastor are to form a partnership that is strong and enduring you must honor each other as Christ has already honored you.  Everyone here, pastor and each individual person, is both messenger and servant one to another.  Although we install Rob in the special office of minister, called and set apart by vows of faithfulness, such vows do not set him above anyone, nor below anyone.  The community of Christ is bound together in mutual service and message.  You are all in this together.  Given this, I also charge you as God’s gathered people at Saugatuck with these things.

First, expect to change. That is because the Spirit still broods over us, Christ still walks among us and God still calls us.  And you have called Rob to help you discern God’s purposes, to embark on a journey of transformation and come into closer communion with God.  Change will come as your years together unfold.  You will be comforted by this ministry, but you will be challenged and confronted as well.

Second, remember that you are called together as the body of Christ for God’s great purposes.  Rob is not a proxy for your work.  God doesn’t need another fan club.  God needs workers in the vineyard.  Paul reminds us in Ephesians, there is one body and one Spirit and each of us was given Christian gifts, …some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teacher, not for personal glorification but so the saints would be equipped for the work of ministry for the building up of the body of Christ.  (Eph 4).  This world, yea, this part of the world needs to know God’s love and grace through each of you.  This is a partnership of people and pastor on behalf of a mighty and merciful God.  You are embarking on holy work.

Third, honor Rob’s ministry.  While this is a partnership, there is also a peculiar setting apart that happens when someone takes ordination vows of faithfulness and accepts a call from a trusting, yearning congregation.  It can be a lonely position and there is often little to go on to know if you are making a difference.  A pastor is more likely to hear the vocal complainers than the quiet supporters, and the pastor is under enormous pressure to wade into conflict with wisdom beyond human capability when it gets personal.  So honor Rob’s ministry.  Pray for him.  Contact him – notes, texts, phone calls, however – contact him with words of encouragement.  Thank him for being your preacher, pastor and prophet.  And honor him by challenging him, asking for clarification, sharing your viewpoint.  Be full, and real and honest in your support.

The apostle Paul frequently began his letters with wonderful words of thanksgiving, as here in his letter to the Philipians:  “I thank my God every time I remember you” – not just occasionally, but every time – “constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you,” – constantly and for everyone – “because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now.”  Paul goes on to say, “I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.  It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God’s grace with me…” (Phil. 1:3-7).

Indeed, today affirms once again that all of you are in God’s grace and are partners in the sharing of the gospel.  With joy, thanksgiving and prayer, God’s good work will be manifest among you.

Change will come as your years together unfold.  That is because the Spirit still broods over us, Christ still walks among us and God still calls us.  Down the road, as you settle into your routines, as you build relationships with your new pastor, as you enter the hard but critical work of discerning how best to fulfill God’s purposes for you, change will happen…it must happen because the Spirit is here, calling, beckoning, needing you to do the work of Christ on earth.  Down the road, you may not be able to say with the confidence of today, “God is doing a new thing…yes, we perceive it.”  But if you give thanks for each other, honor each other, and remember that God has called you to this time and place for a reason, that God has work for you to do together, then you can be sure that there are purposeful changes ahead.  May you perceive it with the joy and hope that only the Spirit can give and may your years together be marked with great faithfulness.   Bless you all.

Photo by Frank Lamb

PRAYER OF INSTALLATION

God of grace and God of glory, you who pours power on your people, we gather not so much to do a deed, but to celebrate a deed already done.  If you had not already laid hands upon Rob, no hands of ours can make him holy.  If long ago this congregation was not gathered at your call and summons we by ourselves could consecrate nothing.  And so we give thanks for your workings in our past and our present and with faith look to you to guide our future together.

This day, we dedicate to Your service among Your people Rob Brink.  Bless him with insight, compassion, wisdom and love as he ministers to the lost, the lonely, the young, the seeking, the dying, the bereaved, the hungry, the joyful.

Deepen and enrich Rob’s spiritual life until all words and deeds convey a loving spirit, a grace of understanding, and a quiet, firm, resolute witness to you as the Way, the Truth and the Light.

By your holy spirit unite this pastor and people in a strong and holy partnership, encouraging, honoring, and loving of each other, that together they might be a witness to your glory, hope and mercy.

Rob, you are now installed to do the work of ministry at the First Congregational Church of Saugatuck, Michigan.  May the Lord bless you and keep you consecrated to Himself always.  In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

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