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Agent of change without the storm sirens

Mercer Island Covenant gets a new shepherd

Beginning a new ministry in a new community is a memorable experience. Believe me, I know. Take eleven years ago when we relocated from a church on the West Coast to the Midwest.

My family and I moved from the warm sun-drenched hills of Northern California to the drab flatlands of Illinois. As our moving van unloaded in the western suburbs of Chicago on Halloween, my wife and I wondered what we'd gotten ourselves into. We were ready to turn around and head back West.

No, it wasn't the miniature goblins and ghosts at the front door that scared us off. It was the weather: sleet and snow and frigid wind. My three little girls traipsed out to go trick or treating in tears. Not only did they not know anyone from whom they would be soliciting candy, they had to cover their costumes with down jackets.

Our move to Mercer Island will prove just as memorable, but for different reasons. Having grown up in Washington state, Seattle weather is not that big of a deal. Quite honestly, after enduring stifling humidity, tornado warnings and thunderstorms of summer (not to mention the bone-chilling cold, colorless stick trees and snowstorms of winter), the moderate climate of the Pacific Northwest is a welcome relief. What makes my arrival at Mercer Island Covenant Church something I will long remember is my ability to predict the atmospheric conditions not reported by the local television meteorologists.

For one thing, there is the peaceful (and exciting) calm of a new day. Pastoral ministry is hardly new to me. Since 1978 I've served three congregations in three states. But for the past eight years I have channeled my skills as a pastor through the conduit of Christian publishing.

In addition to authoring books and writing magazine articles, I've traveled the country helping pastors discover ways to be more creative in their worship planning and more relevant in their preaching. But now I once again have the privilege of putting those principles into practice in a local church. The dawn of this new opportunity finds me energized while basking in the welcoming glow of a congregation happy to finally have a new shepherd.

Still there are the inevitable winds of change that accompany any pastoral transition. Ministers that blow in from the Windy City aren't the only ones who have a Chinook-like influence. Every new pastor brings new ideas. New pastors bring a new set of eyes with which to view what congregations have long since failed to view objectively. I've been in the ministry long enough to know that even a different person doing the same things can give the impression that something isn't quite right. All change, like the tornados in the Midwest, is frightening and unwelcome. My challenge is to be a change agent without causing the storm siren to go off.

Then there are the clouds that creep across the congregational sky. Some are harmless. They simply reflect legitimate questions and concerns that are blown in by the winds of change. At 53 years old, I welcome such feedback more than I did as rookie pastor on Queen Anne Hill. Back then I tended to be defensive and threatened. Today I'm less ambitious and more concerned about what those critical comments might represent.

All the same, I am prepared for the kind of clouds that are dark and angry -- that overshadow the joys of connecting people to their Creator. My experience as a pastor alerts me to the fact that I don't need a weather forecast to know such clouds are coming. It's only a matter of time. Although I'm an experienced shepherd, I'd be the first to admit I'm not a perfect one. Neither am I one that everyone will relate to. As I enjoy the fair skies of what is often called the ``honeymoon'' period of a new ministry, I'm asking God to help me be loving and sensitive to those who are bound to inform me that my style just doesn't meet their needs.

Finally, there are the clouds I'd simply call congregational overcast. Few highs. Few lows. Just taking each day as it comes as a gift from God. It doesn't take long being back in the Emerald City to realize how many gray days it takes to give Seattle its colorful designation. Weather-wise, in our area cloudy days are normal days.

As I begin my new ministry on the island I'm grateful that the same is true for churches. The intensity and emotional glow of being called and installed at a church feels great. All the same, I wouldn't want to live on that emotional high all the time. It's draining.

In all honesty, I look forward to three months from now when we're finally settled in our new residence, I've got a handle on names and faces and invitations to have the new pastor and his family over for dinner aren't as frequent. Come November I'll be wearing a pullover to cover the 15 additional pounds around my middle, but also because Seattle weather will be typically overcast and a tad bit chilly.

You see, even for new pastors getting to normal is a desired destination. Yes, there is something good about sweater weather.

The Rev. Greg Asimakoupoulos may be reached at Mercer Island Covenant Church as of Aug. 7 at 232-1015, ext. 104. His e-mail address is awesomerev@aol.com.

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