Photo by Nik MacMillan on Unsplash.
During the late summer and fall each year clergy meet with their district superintendent for a check-in meeting. Rev. Randy Cross, district superintendent for the Northeast District of the Dakotas Conference explains what the one-on-one conversation is all about.
The United Methodist Church is a “connectional” church. Part of our core identity, even being so large, and so diverse, is that we have made a centuries’ long commitment to stay connected with one another, in a vast number of ways. One way that keeps us connected is a long-standing tradition and requirement that the superintendent seek to be in regular contact with the clergy on the district for counsel and supervision (The Book of Discipline, para 419.7). Our ability to stay connected of course has drastically changed since the time when the superintendent rode horseback throughout the district to visit each pastor! Today we have a great number of ways to stay connected, from email and texting to just picking up the phone to chat.
However, one process that is tried and true, and offers a different approach than trying to solve a problem, or checking up on how a pastor is doing, is the one-on-one conversation that occurs at least yearly between the district superintendent and each pastor on the district. It’s an opportunity to ask that long-standing question: “How is it with your soul?” and to take the time to confidentially and carefully talk about the joys, challenges, pains and successes happening in the pastor’s life. This year will be the 13th time I will have had to share in these holy conversations with “my” pastors. I say holy, because we have experienced raucous laughter, lots of tears, amazing stories, and struggles to find a way through a difficult period. I heard about new babies on the way, new marriages, retirements, and lots of different health issues. I’ve heard about children bringing joy and pride and heartache, almost at the same time. I’ve been informed about great and horrible things happening in the local churches, and I have been expected in conversation to make a deal so that the pastor will never move, or that the pastor move as soon as possible!
I consider it a supreme honor to spend time with the pastors on my district, and for us to talk about these important things, hopefully with their knowledge and understanding that the things we talk about are as confidential as anything in our lives can be. It is perhaps the most important time I can spend as one person as I try to supervise a district. I know this is the sentiment of each of the superintendents on the Cabinet. In recent years, we have worked to standardize what is discussed with each pastor throughout the conference, asking about goals and plans and needs, and how we can help the pastors, as I like to say, “move the boulders out of the road,” so they can do their ministry more effectively. In the end however, it still remains a time for talking about our souls’ health and wholeness, and how we are striving to become more perfectly loving, more creatively involved, and more intentionally in ministry that matters. As we “stay connected” through the one-on-one conversations, we work to stay connected to God as well. It’s certainly not the only time we will connect throughout the year, but it is a significant and important time we carve out to be with one another.
Ask your pastor when he or she is scheduled for their “one-on-one” with the district superintendent, and take time to pray for that meeting, that the Holy Spirit might open both our hearts to share and to better understand the power of this connectional system in which we live and work.