An Epiphany Moment shared at UMCC on February 2, 2014
By Carlo A. Rapanut
By now you already know the news, that I will no longer be your pastor after July 1st of this year. This decision was born out of deep reflection on my call as a pastor and our call to ministry as a family. It is a product of a year of intense prayer and careful discernment. I would like to take this time to explain this decision in an epiphany moment. For it really was an Epiphany for my family and me. And I know, too, that you are seeking a deeper explanation of our decision to move.
So I will not be preaching about the Beatitudes, which is our lectionary for today. But I promise to make-up for that in the coming Sundays. Today, I would like to share our story, a story that is best understood through the story of the Epiphany, the story of the wise men from the East.
In 2007, my family and I were living in the “far east”. (Those of you in the military are familiar with this term describing the part of the world where I come from.) I was serving in a conference staff position as Assistant to the Bishop in Northern Philippines. The Bishop I was serving under had announced that he was going to retire the next year and so Radie and I found ourselves discerning where God might be calling us next. Metaphorically speaking, the star had appeared and we knew it was only a matter of time before it moved, and we needed to be ready to follow. So we prepared ourselves to go back to local church ministry somewhere in our district or conference. I had served two other churches prior to being on conference staff and the thought of the going back to that kind of ministry excited us. By then, it was only a matter of where in Northwestern Philippines the star would lead us.
What it did next was totally unexpected. While hosting the Bishop and Conference Superintendent of Alaska at that time and a group of pastors from the Pacific Northwest who were in our area for a mission exposure trip, I found myself in a conversation with them about the future of my ministry and it ended with an invitation to discern a call to serve overseas, in the United States, perhaps in Alaska.
So the star that we saw started moving westward, beyond the western shores of the Philippines to the western world of the United States. After more prayer and discernment, we packed our bags, left our families, loved ones and friends, as well as the world familiar to us, and followed the star. It was a difficult decision, for we loved ministry in the Philippines and love the people there.
The star moved westward until it stopped over this place almost six years ago. (It’s still up there, if you know what I mean.) And in this place, we found Emmanuel. Through all of you, we experienced God with us. When we arrived, we opened up the treasure chest of our lives and offered our gifts and our graces for the worship and service of Emmanuel whom we have found in this place. And these years have been amazing for us. I hope they have been for you, too. We have served together. We laughed together, cried together. We struggled, we argued and we debated. We agreed and we agreed to disagree. We celebrated, we dreamed, we planned and we worked. We failed together but we also succeeded together. My family and I loved you and you have loved us. And together, in many ways, we lived into what it means to be a community of Christ… welcoming, nurturing, serving. And together, we have redefined church in terms of being a verb, of being the hands and feet of Jesus in our community. It’s been great!
It’s been really great. But the star has reappeared. We already saw the star at the beginning of this current appointive year in July 2013, when I started to feel that our time here was coming to an end. So my family and I started to prayerfully discern what this feeling meant and what God might be calling us to. This discernment led to a realization of where I am in faith and ministry and where the church is. And it became more and more evident that my gifts and graces in ministry are no longer what this church needs.
I began to realize that my mission here in Chugiak may be almost done; that perhaps I have accomplished what God has called me here to do. I’ve pushed you out of the building to engage the people in your mission field, to help you define your role as a church in this community, to help you give flesh and realize the dream of those who built this facility, that it would be a space to serve the community. And now it is time for another pastor to lead you to the next level. You need someone who will help you establish systems of nurture, care and growth, networks and relationships that will sustain the missions that we have started. So it’s not that I do not love you anymore. It’s because my family and I love you so much that we know and accept that you need someone else to lead you on in mission and ministry.
The discernment process led to conversations with our Superintendent and our Bishop. What I did not know was that they, too, even before I told them, had seen the star reappear and so they invited me to discern a move. There were many options. But after more time on our knees in prayer and discernment, and more thoughtful consultation, we said yes to the one we feel the star is calling us to.
The location of our next appointment is still being finalized and will be announced at a later date. For now, we cannot share more than that and I sincerely request that you refrain from asking us questions that will only cause us to lie to you in the name of keeping confidentiality. Our Bishop and Superintendent are already in prayerful discernment for the appointment of your new pastor. Our SPRC is also on board, developing a profile for this church’s pastoral needs and they will need your feedback. Remember, not your wants, but your needs. I invite you to be in prayer, as I will be, for this process, as well as the transition before all of us.
Friends, it’s been awesome, and we thank you. It’s been awesome and we thank God for each one of you. But the star has reappeared and has started moving. Soon, we will need to pack our belongings and keep up with it. But between now and then, let us cherish these last 5 months together and continue in our common mission of being a community of Christ that’s welcoming, nurturing and serving. Amen.