Saturday, October 27, 2007

Ten Years

Last night, the congregation had a little potluck to honor my tenth anniversary serving here. Ten years. Time flies when you're having fun, I guess.

This means one thing: Once again, I forgot my brother and sister-in-law's wedding anniversary. They got married the same weekend we moved up to New York from North Carolina. Funny thing about that was, I officiated their wedding – which meant that we drove up here one day, I flew out to Missouri the next day, and two days later was back to find that my wife had pretty much done all the work of getting the furniture in (it arrived while I was away).

It's a whole other story about how those things all happened at the same time, but either way, ten years is a fairly substantial time in churches.

To put it in perspective, the average length of a pastorate in our denomination is eight years. There are the long-termers who stay for twenty-plus years, and then there are the hoppers – those who stay two to three years moving around like Methodist circuit riders. But on average, there are the mid-termers – those who stay five to ten years.

Now, you might ask yourself, why would anybody move around so much? I'll argue that there are three main reasons. One, personality. Sometimes, the pastor and the parish just aren't meant for each other, and they either cut their losses or try to stay together miserably like an unhappy married couple. Two, opportunity. You might be happy in a parish, but then something exciting come along and you grab it, even though leaving is hard. Three, theory. There's a school of thought that says people should move around periodically so they don't get stale and so the congregation doesn't get too attached to the pastor. The opposition position says there needs to be some longevity so folks can create community.

I used to be of the opinion that staying around wasn't such a good thing. I spent five years in my first parish, three in the next. But after ten years here, I feel like I'm just now settling in. I feel like I'm just now becoming part of the community. Things are just now starting to perk with a new energy that does not feel at all stale but possibly more fun than they have felt in some time.

Could it be that after ten years the congregation and I are getting to know each other? As we spoke last night, I mentioned how our newest Vestry member was in elementary school when I arrived. Now he's 6' 5" and wears a size 17 shoe. I have watched kids move from Christmas pageants to their own wedding pageantry.

And as a pastor friend told me last week, "Now that you've been there a while, and they trust you, you can really start to do some new things."

Is it true? Does it take ten years before you can get anything done? Probably not. But I can say this much: it feels pretty new right now.