By Taurai Emmanuel Maforo*
MUTARE, Zimbabwe (UMNS) — “The reality of entering and leaving a congregation within The United Methodist Church’s itinerancy system is surrounded with mixed emotions for both the outgoing and incoming pastors,” said the Rev. Nicodemus Mucherera in his presentation at a recent pastors’ school at Africa University, Mutare.
The period between December and January is one of transition for many pastors within the Zimbabwe Episcopal Area as they move from old congregations to new ones. This process follows annual (regional) conference sessions in the first half of December.
As in the United States, bishops appoint clergy. Pastors may move from smaller to larger congregations or vice versa or from rural to urban or the other way around, while others change districts or cross conference boundaries. Recent appointments have moved pastors beyond the borders of Zimbabwe to Botswana, the United Kingdom and New Zealand.
In these movements, clergy experience both challenges and joys.
“Having grown up in a high-density suburb of Glen View, Harare,” said the Rev. Paul Mazumba, “being sent on my first appointment in 2005 was filled with anxiety as I got ready to set on a 340-kilometer (210-mile) journey … to Nyamacheni Mission, Gokwe.”
When he arrived, no one was there to greet him and show him around.
“Later, I was shown my new place of abode — a six-square-meter (20-square-foot) room with rough cut tree branches as the ceiling,” Mazumba recalled. “For the next 12 months, I shared the vestry with bats, but in spite of that experience, God strengthened me, and I did enjoy my ministry.”
An elder in full connection, the Rev. Winnet Mupara has served the church for 20 years and once was a school matron at Mutambara Mission. Her ministry took her to three urban and five rural circuits. “Whenever I get an appointment,” she said, “I receive that with grace. Since entering ministry in 1993, I have told myself that wherever people are, I will go and serve.”
‘Empower people for ministry’
Mucherera reminded “entering” pastors to remember the value of the first impression in the new congregation.
“Do not take your hurts and woundedness to the next congregation,” he said, “as this will develop into unresolved grief,” which can destroy relationships.
He encouraged the clergy to acknowledge that God has already done great things in the lives of people before the pastor arrived at the new church. Mucherera told entering pastors to be “cultural historians” and “archaeologists” to learn the context of their assigned churches.
“Empower the people for ministry,” he said, “and leave them with the vision.” The life and vision of the congregation, he stressed, is greater than personal interest. He asked the 400-strong crowd to release their “clasp” on the churches they leave.
He likened the attitude to holding the plow while looking backward. As a result, the pastor may compromise the goal of making transformed disciples.
“If you clasp on to the old, you will not receive the new,” Mucherera said. “Set your eyes on the ‘New Jerusalem’ — the new church — the new vision — the new challenges.”
“I leave an old parish with a feeling of satisfaction that I have worked to the best of my ability,” Mupara said. “Mission accomplished! I prepare myself well with information of my next destination.”
Acknowledging the challenges that come with entering and leaving a congregation, Mucherera encouraged the pastors to remain on their mission course.
*Maforo is a pastor and communicator for the United Methodist Church in Zimbabwe.