a letter to my church after the first year

To my beloved friends in Marysville,

I don’t know how to put into words what I’m feeling on this last day of my first year as your pastor. Some may think it silly to mark time in this way. But I must mark today with something. I’m compelled to slow down today and attempt to appreciate what has transpired in the past 365 days. If I don’t, I fear I’ll blink and another year will dance by. So, today, I pause and thank God.
This time last year, I was nervous, fearful, expectant, hopeful, hot and anxious. It was 95 degrees. We moved here from Alaska to a beautiful home and lots of people who donated a small pool, fans and an AC unit. I remember walking into the church building one afternoon to set up my office and what’s the first thing I saw on my desk? A book of pictures and quotes of all the things a friend of mine had learned in our time together. Talk about a moment of grace in the midst of the voices in my head doing their best to convince me I wasn’t up to this new job. I burst into tears. Thank you, Bailey. 🙂
I wiped my eyes and took a deep breath and set about trying to figure out how to be a lead pastor of a church. 
And here we are one year later. What have I learned? Here are some of the highlights.
A lot of people taught me a lot of things before I got here. It’s easy to take for granted the ways people influence and teach us because it happens so naturally in the midst of daily life. But this past year brought to my awareness all the people who gave me experiences and invited me to practice leadership in my first 33 years of life. Everything I picked up along the way made this first year so much fun. I often paused and thanked God for the pastors in my life who opened doors and shared their wisdom, failure and grace. Dave Beckett, Dave McGaffic, Brian Beckett, Mike Slaughter, Adam Hamilton, Peter Perry, Duane Anders, Corky Calhoun, Jon Disburg, Leila Disburg, John Campbell, Andy Bartel, Michael Burke, Carlo Rapanut, Bishop Ed Paup and Bishop Grant Hagiya. I will do anything I can to encourage others in ministry because these people all encouraged me.
Boundaries, self care & Sabbath. Besides getting to know you all and figuring out how to preach every week, the central theme of my whole first year was this. I’ll never forget the first day that I scheduled a retreat morning away from the office at someone’s home on the water. I felt selfish for taking some quiet time away to read, pray, listen and wonder with God. There were people who wanted my attention and I said I wasn’t available. There were calls, emails and projects waiting and I ignored them. 
And it was glorious. I was hooked. 
Apparently, when they say a pastor can set their own schedule, it’s really true. I had a choice to make early on. I could either be available 24/7 to everyone or I could set healthy boundaries and clear away space first for the most important things. It was affirmed over and over that when I made time for quiet, reflection, study and prayer, I was able to move slower through my life and really pay attention to the nudges of the Holy Spirit. This made me a far more effective and patient pastor, then if I was available all the time.
Craig Groeschel reminded me often in his leadership podcast: “When the leader gets better, everyone wins.” I learned that the health of our leaders really does affect the whole organization. So it’s up to me to eat well, get moving, spend quality time with my family and connect with God so that when I’m with you all in worship, in meetings, in conversations and around town, I’m fully present to what God wants to do through us.
And by the way, you honored my boundaries. All I had to do was set them firmly. You gave me grace and no guilt when I needed to be home to put my kids to bed and had to miss a meeting. Thank you, thank you, thank you. 
That non-anxious presence thing they teach us in seminary is the real deal. It works. As a formerly anxious person, it’s always been a gift from God that I stay calm during tense and conflicted moments. I had many opportunities this year to sit calmly at the center of the organization and listen and acknowledge what I was hearing. We nodded our heads, connected, extended grace and moved forward. Thank you for allowing me to lead you through these moments. We’re strengthening as the body of Christ because we’re learning to trust each other.
The contemplative stance that I mention all the time is still solid. Elaine Heath taught it to me 5-6 years ago and it’s still so good. Show up, pay attention, cooperate with God and release the outcome. I just kept showing up and paying attention, over and over and over. It often seemed that’s all I had to do. The next steps always presented themselves. God gave me the words to say. Yes, I worked my tail off too, but it was great to let the prep work fall away and be fully present. 
Here’s my little bit, God. Make it amazing. I’m a recovering perfectionist. I’m wired to earn people’s approval. And I’ll work my tail off to get it. It’s silly and a waste of time, but I know I’m not alone in this. I learned this year after repeated exhausting moments with my growing to do list, that I apparently can’t do it all. I’m always shocked when I learn this again. Why won’t it stick the first time? 🙂 So now, one of my prayers in the quiet moments is offering to God the little bit that I can do and asking God to do something great with it. Because I’m done doing this on my own strength. It never works. Well, the problem is that it feels like it works for a little bit, and then it’s a train wreck. Our mission in this community is too important to distract myself with train wrecks I could have avoided.

I miss my Alaska people. And I love these Marysville people. It was odd how I could hold those two experiences in the same space. I’d find myself thinking of a dear Alaska friend from my last church and feel overcome by sadness at not being a part of their life anymore. And then I would think of a new Marysville friend and feel such deep love for someone I’ve only known for 8 months. This body of Christ stuff is great. We’re all connected. We itinerant pastors can hold a lot of wonderful people in our hearts. They just keep expanding with all the love.

My family loves you. You’re giving Aaron meaningful places to serve in music, youth and wood working. Wesley claps his hands with delight when we say, “Church!” He runs into my office, picks up the phone and says, “Hello?” Then there’s Isabella. She can’t leave the building on Sunday until she has said bye to every. single. person. Many days, she cries all the way home because she doesn’t want to leave. She has a growing list of people who she looks for to give a hug or say hello. You are showing her how to be a part of a community and as her mom, I’m deeply grateful. You’re teaching her how to follow Jesus. 
So there you go, friends. I could go on and on, but I’ll stop here. How do you say thank you to people who are changing your life? It’s so hard to do without sounding cliche and weird. But you are. God is changing my life. Thank you for taking risks with me. For trying new things. For your wisdom and experience. 
Thank you for a great first year. I love you. 
Your fellow disciple,
Jenny

2 Replies to “a letter to my church after the first year”

  1. Jenny,I am sure that any one of us could copy and paste almost all of what I just read and send it back to you as a thank you to you. You have sacrificed much more than one can imagine to come here and bless us with your knowledge and teachings. For me personally, I have learned more about God in the one year that you have been here than the other 50+ years and the reason for that is because you have taken a chance on me and asked me to be a part of this church as opposed to one that simply puts there time in on sundays sermon.It is because of you that I have attended other activities beyond sunday, it 8s because of you that I have purchased a couple books to help me to understand what this is all about.I trust that your anxious feelings have diminished and your confidence has grown because you have touched me, that is a feather for your cap.Two weeks ago as we were were leaving you were having a rough moment and it was not easy for me to leave that morning because I wanted you to know how much good you have done while you have been here and to not let anything get you down like that.The thanks go to you for what you have done for me.Pastor Jenny, we love you also.Douglas Gould

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