Report of the Interim Regional Conference Minister
AKA "The In-Between Time"
Freeman L. Palmer
November 21, 2009 Metro Fall Meeting
In the words of the cliché, "by the time you read this," I will have served six weeks as Southeast Interim Regional Conference Minister. According to Dictionary.com, the word interim describes someone or something that is "for, during, belonging to, or connected with an intervening period of time." (1) In this period of transition, I count it an immense blessing to be called to ministry with the Metropolitan Association during this 'in-between' time
As many of us know from our own church lives, these in-between times are often filled with anxiety. We all miss our beloved Michael Caine, who in his eight years as Regional Conference Minister was minister, pastor, friend, brother, and lifeline for us all. There are questions about what's next? Who's next? What will the future bring for the Association? Do we have the faith to live into that future? Do we have the fortitude? Do we have the courage to be true to the historical and present prophetic witness that is the United Church of Christ for the New York metropolitan area? What will this Association look like next year? Three or five years? Where do we want to go? How do we get there? Given these questions, what kind of ministry and ministers, lay and clergy, are needed for this Association?
These questions reflect very understandable feelings experienced during in-between times. Yet many instances in Scripture and my own experience tell me that these in-between times can be 'prime-times' for the movement within and the blessing of God to our Association. During this time, God is giving us the opportunity to do the following: 1) review our past as prelude to our future; 2) engage in a time reflection, re-thinking, and re-visioning for the Association to discern our path and direction for the next few years; 3) discover new talents and gifts among our members as well as opportunities for service and witness; and 4) reaffirm our identity and the gift of our Association's witness within the New York Conference and the United Church of Christ as a whole. I firmly believe that these divine opportunities are available to us if in the words of Paul "we walk by faith and not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7)," and not allow fear to pave the pathways of our journeys.
It is important for us to recognize that God is still moving, still speaking, and still doing great things among us. I see this in the ordinations of David Fraccaro, Eleanor Harrison, and tomorrow Eugene Palmore who is serving our host church Corona. I recognize this in the installations of Larry Kalajainen at Scarsdale, Ron Garner at Wantaugh, Conrad Tillard at Church of the Nazarene, and Kaji Spellman at St. Peter's Lutheran Church. I witness this in the work of our Board, who is engaging in a process of visioning of the Association's ministry under the leadership of Martha Jacobs and Lennox Grant. There are two congregations exploring membership in our Association. God performed miracles in the wilderness. God is performing miracles now if we perceive them.
Also vital to the life our Association is our prayers and support to our congregations who are experiencing difficult transitions. My heart is especially close in prayer for my own family at Riverside, as well as Church of the Living Hope in the recent passing of their longtime pastor and our friend. Lonnie McLeod. There are other churches in our Association engaging in the difficult work transitions entail. Let us be both prayerful for them and supportive to them.
The only thing we cannot do during this 'in-between time' is to discontinue our faithful witness to the Reign of God in word and action. Rev. Gordon Dragt, with whom I was privileged to serve at Middle Collegiate Church, says that the "journey from here to there won't happen automatically or by faint-hearted efforts." (2) The upcoming season of Advent reminds us that we're in the in-between time in the grandest sense: the time between the now and the not yet, the time between the Reign of God ushered by the ministry of Jesus Christ and the Reign of God that is to come. We cannot afford to act with faith and courage when people need food, employment, and housing during these hard economic times. We cannot afford to stay silent when families of undocumented workers are being separated from one another. We cannot afford to prevent justice for same sex couples denied the right to marry, work, and live without fear of bigotry, persecution and hate crimes. What happened at Fort Hood earlier this month is a sad and vivid reminder of the roles violence, war, and terror play to impede the realization of Shalom. This in-between time is the time for our Association, uniquely gifted by the diversity of our witness, to reflect, to pray, to discern, and faithfully do what we can to bring forth the good news of Jesus Christ and Reign of God that is and is to come. May we be strengthened in this time by the God who created us, by Jesus Christ who walks with us, and by the Holy Spirit who empowers us.
Love, Joy, Peace
(1) "Interim," Dictionary.com, Dictionary.com LLC, downloaded November 11, 2009 - http://dictionary.reference.com/
(2) "16 Leadership Tips.", Gordon Dragt.com, downloaded November 12, 2009 - http://gordondragt.com/16tips.php