Resurrection 69Posted: December 18, 2016
This is a chapter of the book I am writing for NaNoWriMo. If you want to read it from the start, click here for the chapter index.
The Most Reverend Harry Reynolds
Bishop Harry Reynolds had grow up in Burlington, Vermont. He attended Asbury in the 70s and had been placed in a key church in Lexington upon his own ordination. His goal had been, from the start, not to be a pastor, but to be Bishop. After 35 years working his way from Associate Pastor, to Pastor, to District Superintendent, he finally achieved his goal.
Rev. Reynolds was a large man with a small heart. He knew how to use people for his own ends and did so deftly. It often took one of his victims years to find they were pawns all along. Being in “ministry” gave him ample opportunity to find the naive who were innocent enough not to question his motives.
“Aggie,” barked Reynolds from the doorway, his 6’2″ 300 pound frame filling the space.
In the United Methodist church, newly ordained ministers in Kentucky are typically assigned to one of two career tracks, though they are never referred to by that term formally. The Bishop and District Superintendents would each take time to meet those to be ordained, supposedly a spiritual examination, but in reality it was more of a personality quiz.
Those initial meetings would give the leaders a good idea of who was fit for the Leadership Track or the Chaplain Track.
If a candidate showed great people skills, spoke well, was intelligent and ambitious, they were selected for the Leadership Track. If a candidate was slower, possibly having poor people skills, he would be subjugated to the Chaplain track.
The chaplain track meant a new minister would be sent to a smaller, rural congregation where he could do baptisms, confirmation classes, weddings, funerals and visit the sick. If one were placed on the chaplain track it meant they put you where you could do the least damage. Chaplains were not “spiritual leaders.”
For those on the “Leadership Track,” there was a different procedure. After seminary, those pastors would be moved into an Associate Pastor position at a larger church. The place the District Superintendent and Bishop agreed new pastors would “learn the ropes” under a successful Senior Pastor.
When it came to J.W., they saw he was an intelligent, driven young man. A man who himself would make a good replacement at a large church for a retiring senior. They had his career all mapped out for him. He was young, good looking, great family, great personal skills and they knew any church he pastored would grow.
They assigned him to Christ United Methodist in Lexington. The Senior Pastor, Walt Campbell, was due to retire in six years. Walt was a dynamic speaker and well known for his humorous stories. Not only had the church swollen during his 20 year tenure, with two large building expansions as well, they had started televising the services and he was now well known all over the state as “Kentucky’s Pastor.”
Replacing him would mean finding the right candidate and giving him several years to become a part of the community, learn to speak well, get to know the congregation. J.W. and his young wife would be welcomed and in just a few years would certainly be a wonderful replacement for Walt.
Once the assignments were made, the group of newly ordained ministers, the District Superintendents and the Bishop would then gather together for a day of prayer and fasting over the assignments. This traditional time was meant to confirm in their own hearts the decisions they made were consistent with the leading for the Holy Spirit.
Reynolds thought the tradition a bit dated and trusted more in his own plans than a “move of the Spirit,” but he paid it lip service nonetheless.
J.W. fasted and prayed over his assignment, as did the other newly ordained pastors. During that 24 hours, he became more and more convinced he wanted to work with the poor, the needy, the people he had seen struggling just to survive in White County. He was reminded of John 14:12 where just before his crucifixion Jesus said:
“…whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing…”
Christ UMC was the path for J.W. to become an “executive pastor.” Someone who primarily prepares sermons, leads the church through example as well as administration. A public face for a large church. Executive pastors, J.W. knew, weren’t too involved with the individuals. They weren’t out touching the poor one to one. They weren’t involved in the messy lives of the needy. Those tasks were left to associate pastors and paid staff beneath him.
J.W. wanted to do the things Jesus had done, not run a television ministry. He felt a call, much like he had at the Student Union those years ago, to go to a small church. A church where he could do the things Jesus did.
When the day of fasting and prayer was over, each ordinant had a private meeting with all the district superintendents as well as the Bishop. Typically this was more of a “rubber stamp” where the ordinant simply came in and confirmed the decisions already made.
When it came time for J.W. to meet, he was completely convinced Christ UMC is not where the Holy Spirit was leading him.
His voice trembled a bit as he explained. “I believe God is calling me to a smaller, rural church.”
Reynolds was the first to speak. He had experienced this before, a young pastor, maybe lacking confidence, being fearful of going to a “prime” church.
“Now J.W., we believe you can do incredible ministry at Christ. The Lord needs you there.” It was somewhat interesting how Reynold’s desires and God’s always seemed to be the same.
“With all due respect Bishop Reynolds, I know I ‘can’ do good things for the Lord there, but there are many who are willing and able to go to an established church like that and make a difference. I want to go to a place where I can truly work with the people. Get my hands dirty. Do the things, deal with the people, that Jesus did. The poor, the needy. Not everyone is willing to throw themselves into that kind of work.”
Reynolds didn’t feel respected. Who did this young kid think he was speaking to? The men around this table had over 100 years of combined experience. They were Godly men who made this decision. Who was he to question their judgment?
Before the Bishop could answer, DS Carl Willcox, D.Min. spoke up. “We don’t want to hide you under a bushel, J.W. We believe you have tremendous potential for the Lord and that’s the reason we want to send you to Christ.”
Willcox would be J.W.’s DS.
“I don’t know how much potential I have, or don’t have. But sir, if you’re correct, shouldn’t those with the greatest need receive the best possible care?” J.W. was rapidly painting himself into a corner.
Reynolds had enough of this insolence. He seethed inside, though through years of practice he had learned to hide that fact. He spoke in measured tones. “You believe so strongly you need to be at a small rural church you’re willing to stake your ministry career on it? We only want the best for you and for your wife as well as for the church.”
It was a threat not lost on J.W. nor the other district superintendents. Most of the DSs have experienced Reynolds threats before. They may fear God, but many feared Reynolds more.
“I do, Bishop.”
“Fine,” Reynolds responded, “you’re from Silerville and Silerville First is open. we were going to send Harrington, but we can shuffle things around. Be blessed in your ministry there.”
Reynolds managed to say the last without sounding sarcastic, though he certainly was. Sending J.W. to his home town meant he would likely fail. “No prophet has honor.” He would be seen as the kid who grew up there by the older members and as the kid they went to school with by the younger. They would never treat him as a spiritual leader.
Reynolds decided in that moment he would do whatever he could to see J.W. fail.