Today I announced at Shoreline Covenant Church that Darrel and I will be moving to Ohio where I have been called to be solo pastor of Bethany Covenant Church. Following are approximately the remarks I made.
This past week I was the third wheel with Doug and Erika Haub at the ECC Midwinter Conference for Pastors in Chicago. It’s a good thing I have other friends at Midwinter, or it could have gotten awkward.
On Monday, I took part in my final ordination interview, and I was approved for ordination.
This photo is me with the final ordination interview panel, celebrating with me. Apparently, it’s become a tradition to take a selfie with the interview panel, so we took the selfie!
On the screen you will see a copy of my Midwinter nametag. Look at it closely.It does not say Shoreline Covenant Church. It says Bethany Covenant Church in Lyndhurst, Ohio.
You may have wondered why Pastor Erika was hugging me as if her life depended on it in the middle of the aisle right before church began last week. Moments before that hug, I had received a text that said: “We did vote to hire a new pastor. Her name is Debbie! Alleluia! We just completed the vote, and it was nearly unanimous!”
A week earlier Darrel and I had been in Ohio, where I preached, and where we ate a lot of potluck food and met almost everyone in the church. Last Sunday afternoon, I accepted the call to become the new pastor of Bethany Covenant Church. Here is a photo of the church. Yup, traditional white church with a steeple and a fellowship hall in the basement.
Darrel will be retiring from his teaching position in Seattle Schools where he has served 40 years. I will be leaving my position as Bible teacher and Junior High Chaplain at Bellevue Christian School. In a few short weeks, we will have everything packed up and we will move to a place where, until a couple of months ago, we knew no one.
We have not decided on a final timeline, and there will be plenty of time to share our departure details, but today I want to tell you the short version of a story about you and Darrel and me.
I married into this church. Darrel brought me here to visit before we were even dating. From my very first moments at this church, I knew I was home. I knew I had found something I had been longing for my whole life. I have been a believer since I made a profession of faith in a Baptist church in Germany when I was six years old, but I’d never truly found the home I was looking for until I came here.
Darrel and I got married almost 10 years ago. Shortly after, this church called Pastor Erika to be our associate pastor. I had come from a tradition that did not affirm women in ministry, so this felt a bit strange to me. But Pastor Mike did an excellent job of educating us about how it was completely biblical for women to use all the gifts that God has given them in service of the church, even pastoral gifts.
I saw for the first time that biblical women such as Deborah, Huldah, Mary, Hannah, Junia, and Priscilla were not aberrations, but women whose lives revealed the truth of Joel 2.28 and repeated in Acts 2.17: Your sons and your daughters will prophesy.
Still I felt no pastoral call on my own life. I did, however, need to do some continuing education for my job as a teacher of English and Bible at Shoreline Christian School. I decided to take a couple of classes at Fuller Seminary so I could be a better Bible teacher.
After I had taken my first class, I knew that God was calling me to go to seminary. I still had no inkling that I was being prepared for anything else. But I quit my job and enrolled full time.
When I told Pastor Erika that I had done so (and you have to remember, at that time Erika and I were not friends yet), she immediately said, “Oh, then let’s get your internship set up.” I wasn’t even sure what the internship was supposed to be, but she and Pastor Mike did just that.
Then one Sunday, Laurel Idso, whom I didn’t even know, plunked herself down next to me in church and said, “I hear you’re going to seminary. Are you planning to get ordained?” I had up until that moment no intention of even considering ordination, but Laurel opened up the future for me in that brief conversation, and she has been faithfully praying for me ever since.
She and Sue Kerrigan and Florence Gustafson, three women I didn’t know very well, became my prayer support team during the time I was completing my seminary studies—basically the prayer dream team.
A few days before the first time I preached here, I was at a gathering with Phil and Barb Whitmarsh. Phil said, “I hear you’re going to preach Sunday.” I said, “Yes, I am. Will you be there?” Phil’s response is forever etched in my memory. He said, “I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
For my second internship, Mike Matteson made it possible for me to do an internship in the chaplaincy program at the King County Jail where he had been faithfully serving as a volunteer chaplain since his retirement.
You released me to serve as Associate Pastor of Renew Covenant Church, and you supported that multiethnic church plant with financial gifts and people and worship teams for two years.
And when my time at Renew was over, you again offered me opportunities to lead and teach and preach and influence this body, but really you were the ones who influenced me.
This church taught us to love deeply. This church helped turn me from a person who maybe wanted to take a couple of Bible classes into a pastor. Who knew? Apparently you did.
God has called us to leave Washington, leave our children and grandchildren, leave our jobs, leave our friendships, and leave Shoreline Covenant Church to go to a state where until recently we literally didn’t know a soul.
We are deeply saddened by the necessity to leave so many meaningful relationships behind, but the call of God on us is sure and compelling. As much as we hate to leave you, I also can’t wait to be there, doing what God has called me, and that you have helped prepare me, to do. We go with the wind of Shoreline Covenant Church under our wings. You are the reason we can go, and you are the reason it is so hard to leave.
I have been asked to tell you that the people of Bethany Covenant are deeply appreciative of you, truly grateful to the people of Shoreline Covenant for your investment in me, and for your nurture of both of us in such a way that this moment in time is possible.
Please pray for us: for the transition and all the details associated with it, and for the new work that God has given us.
Let me finish with this shameless request: We would love to spend time with you before we leave. Invite us over for dinner. Take us out for lunch. Let us be with you as much as possible. We are who we are because of you, and we want to celebrate that with you. And then we will depend on Facebook and messenger and email and Skype and Christmas cards and airlines and road trips to keep being Jesus to one another.
Thank you for being my church. Thank you for being family for Darrel and me. We love you.