Summer is a season for travel. It’s a time for adventures, for vacations, for exploring. These adventures fill our Facebook accounts. They sustain our family connections and they nurture our spirits. Cherished summer patterns offer simpler days and time to linger over meals.
As a child, growing up in St. Louis, my summers were also full of long days travelling to visit family in New York and Minnesota. I travelled to camp in Michigan and one year our vacation took us exploring the highways and back roads of Wisconsin. That year I especially remember eating some amazing cheese in the back seat of the family car.
This is a summer when I have been thinking a lot about travel. When I applied to be your Interim Senior Pastor, it was the trip I took to Appleton that convinced me to say “yes” to this call. I was impressed by the Search Committee – Kris Hietpas, Chip Gabbey, Julie Gamm, Todd Needham, Cindi Ritcey-Fox and Tori Schultz – in the Zoom interviews, but in person they were true ambassadors. Their genuine hospitality won me over. My new colleagues in ministry, Rev. Nick Hatch and Rev. Laurie Lyter-Bright, were engaging and we connected quickly and eagerly. Carolyn Frederick gave me a tour and then as I sat in the sanctuary talking with John Albrecht about worship, a strong sense of call to this interim continued to grow.
Some of the best stories in the Bible are about trips. As I have wondered over the years why these stories so often focus on a journey, I believe it’s not an accident and the setting demonstrates that often God meets us on the road. The story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus demonstrates how often we find our most meaningful moments when we don’t expect them, or don’t know exactly what will happen next. Like the Risen Christ, so often God meets us when we are travelling. We may not even be looking for a deeper sense of God’s presence. We may think we’re just taking care of business or putting one foot in front of another. We may be nervous about the trip, itself. Something happens, though, in these liminal times that makes us ready to see God’s face. I believe God is always available but there is something unique about these times when we explore new possibilities, that opens the door to new perspectives and makes us able to feel the hand of God.
I think of an interim time in the life of a church as just this kind of journey. At first it feels like a trip where no one has a map. If we ask our GPS for directions our “smart” phones will fumble. But the truth is when people of faith take a journey like this from one chapter to the next, so often they discover that that don’t need to rely on their GPS because God is their pilot.
When I returned from Appleton, it was my wife Peggy O’Connor (also a minister) who recognized that this was an important adventure that was calling to us. So, in the four weeks since I was in Wisconsin, we have already started to make our way to Appleton. We have been packing and organizing our stuff. We have rented a house in town by City Park. I expect to be in Appleton by the third week of August and lead worship with Pastors Laurie and Nick on August 28. Peggy will be coming along that first week of September. In the meantime, as we all begin this journey together, this interim path, all of our experience will be especially blessed if you pray with me for our church, your church and my new one.
Pray for the clergy and staff throughout the summer as they take their vacations and we all prepare for the fall. Pray for Pastor Steve as he starts a new journey himself. Pray for the Vandersall discernment process. Pray for one another in this season of renewal. And pray that this interim time is fruitful and that we all find travelling mercies and the wisdom to see God’s face along the way.
Pastor Susan Cartmell