“I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now.” -Philippians 1:3-5
Dear Spring Hill Presbyterian Church Family,
Every time I write a letter, newsletter article, church-wide email, or other congregational communication, I always begin with this same language: “Church Family.” Over the past 8.5 years, this church has truly become family for me as well as for Ryann, Lohi, and Wilson. You have welcomed us in and taught us how to boldly welcome all in Christ’s name. You have nurtured us through warm friendships, beautiful music, inspired worship, engaging learning, deep service, strong leadership, joyful smiles, and delicious meals. This church family has become our home and shaped us into the family we are today, all of which makes sharing news of transition all the more difficult.
Throughout my time serving as your senior pastor, there have often been occasions when other congregations have reached out asking me to consider moving to serve with them. Each and every time, I have declined the invitation immediately because I cannot imagine a better congregation and community in which to serve as a pastor. However, I was recently approached by my alma mater, Presbyterian College, about a new position that they have created, the Dean of Spiritual Life and Chaplain. This position will be charged with championing the college’s relationship with the Presbyterian Church by overseeing the pastoral campus ministry for students and staff, some classroom teaching, and representing the college in the larger church to build partnerships with congregations, presbyteries, and other institutions. After much tear-filled, prayerful discernment, I feel that God is calling me to this new venture in ministry.
While we are excited about this next chapter, my family and I are also heartbroken over sharing this news with you, because we love this church family so deeply. This transition will mean that over the summer, we will be moving to South Carolina. I will continue serving as your senior pastor for the next seven weeks with my final Sunday in the pulpit being June 12. Our Session and Personnel Committee will be hard at work in the days ahead to secure an interim pastor as soon as possible to guide SHPC through the time of transition. You may already know that our associate pastor, Dr. Anna Fulmer Duke will be on sabbatical this summer from May 16 to August 15. The timeframe for my transition means that I will still be here through one month of her sabbatical time. The hope is that an interim pastor will be able to begin this summer without much, if any, of a gap in pastoral leadership.
This move certainly comes sooner than I had imagined. Last summer, the focus of my sabbatical was imagining the new adventures that we would share together for years to come. Over the fall and winter, that continued to be my focus before I was even aware that this position at PC had been created. My plans were to be here in ministry for much longer, but as is often the case, God’s call catches us off guard in ways we never imagined.
While this transition is occurring sooner than I would have planned, I am extremely proud of the ministry we have shared together over the past 8 ½ years. Following a difficult split in the church a decade ago, we worked together to rebuild the bonds of trust and reconnect to the joys of our Presbyterian roots. Together we have strengthened our mission and outreach ministries, redesigned our worship pattern, redeveloped a culture of generosity and faithful stewardship, welcomed many new members, and created new opportunities for intergenerational faith formation. We have baptized babies, married couples (young and old), said goodbye to loved ones, and proclaimed the gospel with both words and actions. We celebrated our history with a 75th anniversary in grand style and moved toward our future with a capital campaign to welcome the next generation. We have even navigated through the last two years of disruption from the COVID-19 pandemic and come out strong on the other end. While I am proud of the work we have done together, I am also keenly aware that I am leaving our church family in a time of remarkable strength thanks to an outstanding church staff and great leadership on our Session and Board of Deacons. None of this makes it any easier to leave, but it reminds me that God will continue to guide you into the future that is already becoming a reality.
Of course, along with the gratitude for all the good gifts of our years together, there are also regrets for opportunities not fully realized. At present, my greatest regret is that time did not afford me the chance to sit down and share this news with you in person before you read it here. While that was not possible to do, I hope to spend a great deal of my time over the next few weeks meeting in person with as many members of our church family as possible. So, please let me know when you are available for coffee, lunch, or a visit at church or your home. Seven more weeks together does feel far too short, but in truth it is fairly typical for pastoral transitions like this.
In weighty moments like these, I am reminded of the closing words of Psalm 121: “The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and for evermore.” Like the image of a labyrinth, these words from the psalm remind us that God is ever present through all the transitions in our life-long journey of faith. Whether “going out” or “coming in,” God is there to guide the adventures of our lives, especially through the unexpected twists and turns. My prayer for you, my church family, is that we will remember the ways that God has held us through transitions in the past and that these memories will mentor our hopes for the future into which God is leading us already. Know that I am and will forever be so grateful for this church family, who took a risk years ago on a 30-year-old with only a drop of experience, and in doing so taught me how to be a more faithful follower of Jesus Christ.
Grace and Peace,
Dr. Buz Wilcoxon, Senior Pastor
Spring Hill Presbyterian Church