A MESSAGE FROM REV. J.C. AUSTIN: Waiting and Preparing

Three years ago, I began serving as your pastor at the beginning of Advent. As I’ve said before, there is a certain…burden…that comes with using the initials “J.C.” as a pastor, since many people immediately make the connection with those being the initials of Jesus Christ. And so people particularly had fun with being able to say, “We’re waiting for J.C. to come to Bethlehem in Advent!”

As you’re reading this, you’re probably sitting on the boundary between Advent and Christmas, when we shift from the weeks of spiritually (and literally!) waiting and preparing for the coming of Christ into the celebration of the gift of Christ being born to us.

Which is fitting, because I’m delighted to say that the waiting and preparing that we’ve been doing over the last nine months (an appropriate timeframe, given the Christmas story!) for an associate pastor is coming to an end, because the Associate Pastor Nominating Committee (“APNC”) has selected a candidate for you to consider calling as our next associate pastor!! What a wonderful gift for us to be able to celebrate in this season and anticipate receiving in the new year.

Now, as we celebrate and anticipate, I want to explain a few things about how this will unfold and what your role and responsibility is as members. First, the APNC has informed the Session that it has a candidate and proposed terms of call (salary, etc.) for that candidate. The Session has affirmed those proposed terms of call, but it does not know who the candidate is, because the APNC reports directly to you, the congregation.

In Presbyterian governance, the right of the people to elect their own leaders is sacrosanct. That is why you had to approve the APNC in the first place, and they report directly to you when they have a candidate they wish to nominate to you. And according to Presbyterian process, they bring only one candidate; you commissioned them to go out and discern who would best fulfill the calling for this position, and when they believe they have done that, they nominate that person to you.

So: the Session has called a Special Congregational Meeting for Sunday, January 10, at 9 a.m. via Zoom, in order to receive and act upon the report of the Associate Pastor Nominating Committee. Please mark your calendars now and plan to be a part of this crucial moment in our congregation’s life and ministry. (We will offer a Combined Worship service at 11 a.m. that day.)

In the week leading up to the meeting on January 10, the APNC will be sending some advance communications to you about their process and why they are excited to be nominating this person. For confidentiality reasons, though, they will not be able to release any identifying details about the candidate until just before the meeting itself.

This is standard in the Presbyterian Church (USA) call process, because the candidate cannot tell their current congregation that they have received a new call until that call is issued; in this case, by an affirmative vote by you.

But given the speed with which information travels these days, it is all too easy for the current congregation to stumble upon that news too early if it is published with any real advance notice, which obviously then creates a series of painful problems for both the candidate and that church. And in any case, our governing process makes the congregational meeting itself the place that you learn about the specific candidate and make your decision.

So: the APNC will be providing general information in the week leading up to the meeting, and will make a more descriptive brochure available to inform you of some of the basics before the meeting begins. In the meeting itself, you will hear from both the APNC and the candidate as to why they feel this is a call from God, and then you will have an opportunity to ask them questions before discussing and voting on the nomination.

On a personal note, I want to say I am thrilled by this news and can’t wait for this meeting! And I want to commend the APNC on their diligent, faithful, and energetic work in going through the search process and finding a strong candidate to help us live more deeply into our mission as a congregation.

So again, please mark your calendars for Sunday, January 10, at 9 a.m.; it will be a wonderful start to the New Year!

Grace and Peace,