An Open Letter to Church of the Servant:
It has been a challenging week for our Church of the Servant congregation. Change is always difficult, but there are two aspects of the changes underway within our Church that make a pastoral transition particularly tender. First, is the role that your ministers fill within the life of the congregation. We have been given the sacred responsibility of sharing in your lives during the most special of moments: the birth of a child, a baptism, a wedding, or a funeral. Relationships are built and deep connections made as a result of this privilege. When a transition comes, these relationships change and feelings of grief, loss, and even anger are to be expected and are in fact, normal. Secondly, we exist in a tumultuous world where change and upheaval within the institutions we trust – our government, corporations and brands, and even our families – can shake our confidence in the very ground upon which we stand. A significant change within our church strikes at the core of these very fears. It would be impossible for any particular letter or email to put all these concerns to rest, or even address them all, but my hope is to provide a measure of perspective and a word of assurance as to the days and years to come.
First, a word on the process that has brought us to this point. The current reality of Church of the Servant is that we have experienced a dramatic decline in our worship attendance over the last three years. Over that period, we have lost thirty percent – over 600 individuals – from our average weekly worship attendance. That trend impacts every aspect of our life together including the financial health and well-being of the congregation, as well as our ongoing viability to provide ministry. This situation requires the leadership of the Oklahoma Annual Conference (of which we are a part), the leadership of the local congregation, and each of us as appointed clergy to ask serious questions about our future.
As a United Methodist congregation, the bishop of the Oklahoma Annual Conference appoints each of your clergy to the local congregation. The congregation does not directly control these placements, as only the bishop has the responsibility and authority to determine appointments. Within the congregation, a Pastor Parish Relations Committee (PPRC) is tasked with the oversight of individual clergy from the perspective of the local church. On an annual basis the PPRC performs an evaluation of each appointed clergy based on the needs of the community, the needs of the specific congregation, and the individual fit and performance of that appointed minister. That evaluation will include an examination of the overall trends and health of the congregation.
Following that annual evaluation, a confidential report and recommendation is made to the Bishop. The contents of that report are supposed to be shared only between the individual minister, the PPRC, the bishop and his representatives. Taking into account the suggestions of the committee, as well as his individual consultation with the minister, the bishop makes a decision as to the continued appointment of a minister to a particular congregation. Each of us as ordained Elders in the United Methodist Church have submitted ourselves to this process, trusting that God will protect his Church and provide the right leadership for the right season.
Moving forward there are two questions that have been asked with some frequency that I would like to address. The first involves the timing of Dr. Gorrell’s departure, as it does not align with the usual rhythm of clergy appointments within the Annual Conference. While it is true that most clergy appointments come at the beginning of June following the annual gathering of the Oklahoma Annual Conference, appointments are adjusted and moves made throughout the calendar year. In fact, in very large congregations such as Church of the Servant, mid-year changes are more likely than not, given the specific needs of the large church.
The second question involves my future role as Executive Minister at Church of the Servant. The bishop and the PPRC have currently tasked me with the responsibility of the overall leadership and administration of the congregation. What my role in the future might be has yet to be defined. However, I can emphatically and without reservation state that I am not, and will not be, a candidate to become the next Senior Minister of Church of the Servant. My calling, and the specific gifts, graces, and talents that God has built within me do not align with the needs of that particular position. It is because of my deep love for, and commitment to, this congregation that I can say the preaching voice for the coming generation at Church of the Servant has not yet been identified.
In the weeks to come, the Pastor Parish Relationship Committee, along with the Administrative Council of the church, will begin to develop a pastoral profile describing the needs of the local community and the specific needs of Church of the Servant. Once finalized, that profile will be submitted to Bishop Hayes and he will begin the process of locating the best possible match between the needs of the congregation and the gifts of the minister to be appointed. It is important to remember we do not “call” a specific pastor or submit names of particular ministers we might desire. Rather, we submit a pastoral profile that seeks to define precisely the gifts and skills of leadership needed. Our Pastor Parish Relationship Committee will engage in consultative conversation with the bishop, but the bishop alone makes the ultimate decision. The timeframe of this process is currently undefined; the process could take weeks or extend for months, depending on how the pieces come into alignment. The commitment of the leaders of Church of the Servant and the Oklahoma Annual Conference is to work with dedication, diligence, and prudent haste to prayerfully discern and ensure the success of the coming appointment, but even more so the future success of Church of the Servant.
As we experience this season of change and uncertainty, it is natural for us to become anxious as to the future of Church of the Servant. Now is the time for us to lean on one another and to recognize that God is in control. Please pray for our church, our leaders, and this process. God’s hopes and dreams shall prevail in defining our mission and ministry both in Oklahoma City and extend across the entire world as we reach out in the love and mercy of Jesus Christ to share his “Good News” with others. God is with us, and may our actions be worthy of the God we love and serve.
Rev. Randy Shrauner
United Methodist Church of the Servant