As I briefly explained to Gideon and Greenbrier UMCs on Jan. 26, every year at this time, pastors and the Staff-Parish Relations Committee (SPRC) of their churches enter into a time of consultation about pastors' appointments. Appointments begin each each year at the end of June. In the Tennessee Conference, every appointment is for one year at a time, basically from the beginning of July to the end of the next June.
During the still-ongoing consultation process it became clear to the SPRC's of both Gideon and Greenbrier that I will not be returned to the Greenbrier-Gideon Charge as pastor. The two predominant reasons are:
- Retirement of pastors in the Conference this year will likely be higher than average, which causes more moves than usual.
- The financial condition of both congregations, especially forecasting to January 2021.
Here is why January 2021 figures in. Starting this year, 2020, every church is fully responsible for paying all of its pastor(s)' health insurance premium and pension "match." For 2020 only, the Conference is paying half of the insurance premium and three-fourths of the pension match. Starting Jan. 1, 2021, both subsidies drop to zero. That means that in the middle of the appointment year, the direct-billing total rises very sharply -- for Greenbrier church alone more than $9,000 and for Gideon proportionately.
Both churches have been faced this year with declining offering amounts chiefly because of deaths of members whose giving has not been significantly offset by other members, and by persons moving away, either literally by moving van, or figuratively by attending another church.
(Almost every UM pastor either within our conference or outside it I have spoken with, and it has been a lot, have said their attendance has also dropped. That many, maybe most, of the departures have resulted from the ongoing turmoil in the UMC regarding actions of last February's General Conference, and the guaranteed continuation of it coming in this May's GC, there is little doubt. )
With all of this as background, in my consultation meetings with both SPRCs, we all agreed that my continuation as pastor of this charge was not financially supportable. Frankly, had the SPRCs' members not already understood that, I would have put it on the table. But we all knew this. The main task now for each church's SPRC is preparing for their own consultations with our district superintendent, the Rev. Scott Aleridge. I continue to work with both committees on that.
As for myself, Cathy and I had always planned on retiring in 2022. We frankly see little point, and have no desire, to move our home and begin new at another church, then retire after only two years there. I do not think it would be fair to that church. And, since Greenbrier is very north in the Conference, any move would almost certainly take us farther away from our new grandchild to be born in March. Add the hassle of selling our home and possibly having to buy a new one, or live in a parsonage for only two years, then move our household again, and other things like that. For these reasons, I informed Rev. Aleridge last weekend that I would retire this summer.
As I said Sunday, Cathy and I are deeply grateful to the people of Greenbrier and Gideon churches for the time we have been here, and for the five months I still have to enjoy as your pastor. It is possible that I may be asked to take a part-time appointment somewhere within driving distance, but there is no way to know now. But today, you and I serve our Lord and one another in love, thanks be to God!
Grace and peace,