The Story Behind the Sentence

"Pastor Jenny and her family have discerned it’s time to transition from ministry at Edmonds United Methodist Church into extension ministry. She will go on personal leave February 1, 2022."

So many of our seasons of discernment happen in the quiet and unseen places of life. While we wrestle with deep life-altering questions, people around us move along as if all is well. Those seasons are often deeply private for good reason. We're invited to learn the nuance of our own voice, the language of our soul, as we sit with life's questions. If we brought those processes out into the public, we'd end up listening to a lot of other voices that are not our own.

While private, it doesn't need to be lonely. We can invite a few voices into that sacred space to mirror back what we think we're noticing. I got the absolute honor of inviting beautiful humans into my recent discernment season. They know who they are, and their time with me was pure gift. They helped me clarify what I noticed.

However, there's an odd thing about seasons of quiet discernment. When it's time to share more publicly, we type out a few sentences, as if they can capture the entirety of what's going on. They can't. They weren't meant to. It's one sentence in a chapter of the story that's being written. I've noticed it's easy to glance at someone's sentence and imagine all kinds of things. Let's normalize discernment and the invitation to listen deeply to our lives. Here's a bit more of the back story to the announcement that came out yesterday. This is a letter I wrote to the church I'm serving. You can watch the video of it here.

Photo by Ken Pickle

To the lovely people of Edmonds United Methodist Church,

I write to you today with news that means different things to different people. So let’s talk about what it means to me and how we got here. We’ll talk about what it might mean to you and what’s coming next.

Have you ever felt a nudge to do something but you kept dismissing it? Maybe it even felt like a God thing? But you had plenty of excuses as to why it wasn’t time or you weren’t the right person? Yeah, me too.

Three or four years ago, I started feeling the nudge toward ways of being in ministry beyond the local church. I had a long list of reasons to ignore this nudge. My entire life was built around serving as a pastor of a local United Methodist church. It’s all I knew. So I tried to honor both my call to serve the local church and the call to this other work. I found myself ignoring Spirit’s prompting to move outside of local church leadership and into a new, unconventional ministry model because I wanted to do what people expected me to do. Maybe you’ve had a season of life like that too. It’s hard to disrupt people’s hopes and expectations.

But the pandemic did something surprising. I’ve heard it’s done this for lots of people. It blew away the clutter of my life so that I could hear my heart more clearly. It became impossible to ignore.

I realized that I could stay and continue to be one of your pastors. Maybe even for a long time. But I knew, deep down, that you would only ever have part of my heart. And I care about the local church too much to fill a role that belongs to someone else. Someone who feels fully called to live among you, to love you, to lead you, to care for you as your pastor.

I wanted to be that person for you. I tried really hard. But I would be lying to myself and to you if I pretended to be that person. You are brilliant and brave and beloved, church. As all churches do, you need someone in this role that’s all in. And Spirit made it abundantly clear that I needed to step aside so I could say yes to God’s leading in my life and someone else could say yes to God’s leading in their life. All so that the body of Christ can be strengthened and prophetic and just as we move forward.

You may wonder why the mid-year move? My original intent was to wait until June 2022. But this fall, I experienced severe burnout for the second time in just 15 months. I couldn’t stand before you talking about sustainability, love, grace, and trust while ignoring the reality of my heart and body any longer. I shared this with our Staff Parish co-chairs in mid-October and they encouraged me to take two weeks off to rest and discern. It became abundantly clear I was pouring from an empty cup. Moving at the end of January allows me to care for myself and my family before embarking upon the next adventure that Spirit has for us.

You may wonder how my family is doing. They’re okay. They’ve been supportive and gracious in this season. It’s been a lot of change and transition for them in the past two years. But they get it. My husband has a job he loves so it feels good to follow his career for a season after 16 years of him following my work opportunities. We’re doing okay. We have people caring for us and helping us make the transition.

Here’s the part where, if we could all see each other in person without masks, we’d sit down for a cup of coffee and you might lean in and say, “Jenny, how are you really doing?” And I would ask you the same.

If you asked me today, I would say I’m sad. I’m grieving, that in my 19 months with you, we were only together in-person for five of them. I’m still meeting people for the first time. This is bizarre. I grieve the pandemic and it’s far-reaching consequences. I’m sad that following the Spirit is shifting me from spaces I know well into spaces I’m learning to trust.

When I breathe into the sadness and it eases a bit, I notice the presence of gratitude. Gratitude for the way you welcomed my family so beautifully without really meeting us. For the love shared at car parades, Zoom calls, text messages, and letters. Gratitude for the incredible work we got to do together, even at a distance.

Speaking of gratitude, I’ll speak later this month to how much it’s meant to me to serve with Pastor Ann and our staff team. It’s a phenomenal team and I’m going to miss them deeply. We went through a lot together and it means more than I can articulate yet.

Beyond sadness and gratitude, there is also curiosity. I’m wildly curious about what will unfold next. Both in my own life and ministry and in yours. I’m grateful to have been a part of laying some groundwork for what God wants to do in and through you next. Some days I grieve the shortness of this appointment, while I also don’t think anyone got it wrong. There were unique things EUMC needed in this season and I was equipped to help with those. It almost felt like I was a pandemic interim of sorts. And honestly, having two millennial pastors serving during a pandemic was a good fit. Digital ministry, while quite different, was also fun. I enjoyed recording sermons from Yost Park, doing a video scavenger hunt all over town with my family, learning how to livestream Foundry from my phone, and building beautiful relationships in Zoom classes.

So, here’s the part at the coffee shop, where I lean in and ask you, “How are you? How does this all feel?”

I first think of those of you who haven’t gotten to be present in the building much in the past 18 months. This might feel bizarre for you too. Maybe we bonded digitally over the screen. Maybe I got to comfort and invite and offer love in meaningful ways, but we never met in-person. I honor that. This must feel weird. Know that our connection was real. God moved in it. I’m grateful. If we learned something of faith from each other, then it was valuable, even if for a short time.

For those who I got to know in deeper ways, I honor the truth of however this lands for you. Disappointment. Anger. Confusion. Surprise. Sadness. Gratitude. Understanding.

It’s all holy. Truly. I think a lot of us have a tendency to cover up what we perceive to be “negative” emotions and lean into the “positive” ones, but if this pandemic has taught me anything, it’s that our challenging emotions are sacred too. God welcomes our anger and mess and confusion. We can offer all of it to God and Spirit gently helps us sort it out.

Because, church, anytime we choose to trust someone, to listen to them, to believe them, to partner with them, and then we hear the relationship will shift, this is hard work. I honor the trust we built in each other in this season. You all got me through a hard thing. I hope I did the same for you.

I’m also aware many of you have been through difficult pastoral transitions in your life. Each one is unique, but new ones have a way of awakening past difficulty. I see you. I honor any heaviness you carry. Any unhealed pain that lingers. Know that we can do transitions and change in beautiful and healing ways. We can talk about how we’re really feeling with each other. We can ensure we understand why something is happening. We can listen deeply to each other. When a faith community commits to healthy transitions, God gets such fertile soil to prepare the next adventure. The next season of growth and possibility.

Edmonds United Methodist Church has incredible potential to heal, to serve and to love this world. I’m honored to have been one of your pastors for this season.

As far as what’s coming next -- I’ll invite our Admin Team to speak to that during our announcements before the last hymn. I have full confidence in all that will unfold. God is up to something beautiful in and through you.

I’m available the entire month of January to connect in a variety of ways. We can schedule a phone call, an in-person visit (if we sense it’s safe enough), a Zoom call. I’m glad to visit your small group, virtually or in-person. I’ll preach in worship on January 16, 23 and 30. I hope we’ll get a chance to connect and to say goodbye. Or even to meet for the first time!

Church, your greatest adventures are still ahead of you. Thank you for allowing me to serve with you. To love you. To speak into your life. To encourage you. It’s been an absolute honor.

Palms up,