This past Sunday, I began serving as a new pastor in a local Connecticut congregation. After eleven and a half years serving another parish, I spent much of this past summer deeply engaged in the process of leaving one church and moving to another. This process of saying both goodbye and hello concurrently is one laden with many emotions, for sure. Yet, as I begin at this new church, I find that I have learned two very important things from what has been a unique experience for me. I share these learnings with you because I believe that they can speak directly to the importance of relationships within local church congregations in the lives of individuals and in those neighborhoods and the communities that are such a part of their lives.
Being a pastor has been and is a wonderful experience for me. The culmination of my ministry at my former church brought with it the reemergence of many memories. Over the course of a fairly long pastorate, one is fortunate to have the opportunity to experience life in its varied ages and stages. One sees little babies grow into older children, youth group members become adults and sadly, many so deeply beloved ‘cross the bar’ and move to the realm of God’s eternity. The early stages of my service in my new congregation has been exciting as I have had the opportunity to interact with individuals who deeply love their church community and are excited about the possibilities inherent in its future. It is uplifting to watch this excitement lead to creative energy and into directions desired yet not entirely foreseen. In these new connections, one finds hope and in hope, one experiences the heart of that which we believe.
This is all a way of saying that, first of all, in these past weeks, I have learned even more deeply what I already knew- that there is really something wonderful about being a pastor. When I decided to prepare for and engage in this line of work many years back, I felt that it was a good decision. I believe that even more deeply now. Yet, the positive dimensions found in pastoral work is because of something that cuts even deeper.- the very importance of the local church.
In a fast paced, often impersonal and cold world, the local church community offers incredible potential for people to be given the opportunity to reflect deeply upon life’s meaning and purpose and to be provided ways of celebrating life’s passages within the context of that which is lasting, enduring and has ultimate consequence. It is this reality that gets to the essence of what the church can do! In addition, I would contend as well, over and against fellow Christians who interpret its purposes differently, that church is a place in which people can embrace a shared unity which undergirds its actions and goals without sacrificing a pluralism in philosophies and practices. Simply put, churches are places where people can celebrate the deepest possible common bonds, even when, in so many ways, they might be different from one another.
My late summer/early fall experience of pastoral transition has been a good and a memorable one. My life has been deeply enriched by those with whom I have worked side by side over these past few years. I anticipate the future of our common life in this new church community, a life just now beginning to unfold. It is truly a privilege to be a pastor. Most importantly, it is a privilege to be a member of the church, a long standing institution indeed, yet one highly relevant for both this moment in time and for the years that lie ahead!
Rev. Dr. Robert R. LaRochelle began his ministry as pastor of Second Congregational Church, UCC, in Manchester on Sept.16. He had been pastor of the Congregational Church of Union, UCC since 2001. He is author of "Part Time Pastor , Full Time Church" ( Pilgrim Press, 2010) and "Crossing the Street" ( Energion 2012).