My name is Kim Long. I love church. From a small girl through my teenage years to now, a soon-to-be empty nester, church has been one of the major loves in my life. When I enter the doors of the church, I find that I can breath deeply and draw in a peace that I can do no where else. Despite my love of church it took me a while to respond to God’s call to become an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church. So that is how I have to come to be in the mid-years of my life and just now receiving my first solo appointment.
In April of 2017, I received a phone call from the District Superintendent offering me an appointment as the solo pastor at First United Methodist Church in Alvarado, Texas. I began that on the first Sunday in July. As I entered the pulpit that morning to preach, I had not yet been in the office for even one day of work. So I essentially stood before a congregation as a stranger attempting to share a word from God to people who were strangers. This experience proved to be petrifying, exhilarating, and something that can only be done without throwing up with the Holy Spirit propping you up.
I am now entering my fourth month as the pastor of an amazing group of God’s people in a beautiful community that shares life together. As I look back over the past three months, I have begun to ponder about what I have learned during that time.
First, I have learned that it is easy to love people. So often we make loving people hard. We imagine that loving people requires more than what we have to give, especially if those are people we do not know or do not have much in common. Yet, in practice, loving people is as simple as taking a moment to learn a name. As I entered FUMCA, the congregation had to learn two names, mine and my husband’s, but I had to learn many. That very simple act of intentionality extended more love to each person than you might expect. From there, conversations were shared, smiles were exchanged, and my love for each individual grew like wildfire. It all began with the simple act of learning a name.
Second, I have learned that in the midst of life there is death and in the midst of death there is miraculous hope. Since I began serving FUMCA, a flood of funerals has occurred. As I have tried to learn the rhythm of this congregation, establish myself within that rhythm, meet people and do life with these precious people, we have all done death together. Patriarchs and matriarchs of this 150 year old congregation have passed. Many, many tears have been shed as meals have been cooked and prayers have been uttered. In the midst of all of this, we have all continued to go to work, care for our children, attend worship services and Bible studies. Life has happened even as death as been our constant companion. Yet, through the sharing of memories of a life well-lived, through the hugging one another in grief, hope has blossomed. Those who have passed left a legacy of faith that the younger generations are picking up and carrying. New bonds are being made through the cooking of meals and the reaching out to comfort. The hope of the resurrection becomes vivid through the sharing together in a death. So while death is hard, so very hard, through the grace of God it can also be the flame that ignites the fire of hope.
Finally, I have learned that you cannot do ministry dragging Jesus behind you while you bull through on your own. It seems that after the first Sunday in the pulpit, I began to trudge forward under my own power. I did not do this intentionally. I was not even aware of it. But, that is what I did. Yes, I prayed each morning and read scripture daily. However, these prayers were often for others, the scripture for sermon preparation. Recently, I noticed my tired and weary state. This prompted me to take time to enter the sanctuary alone. I sat in the presence of God, breathing in deeply the Holy Spirit. Through this silent pausing, I realized that in all my effort to lead the charge, I left Jesus behind. In that moment, a complete surrender came over me that filled me with peace, strength and endurance. Through surrender, once again came the deep knowledge that it is not up to me. In that moment, I gave the reigns back to Jesus where they belong.
Serving in a solo appointment is one of the greatest joys I have known while also being one of the most challenging adventures of my life. For all of this, I am humbled and grateful.
Rev. Kim Long is the solo pastor at First United Methodist Church in Alvarado Texas. She is married to Robert Long, who serves in a thriving dental practice in Cleburne and Midlothian. She is the proud mother to two incredible young adults, Becca and Zach. Kim is passionate about helping others to discover God's radical love for them. Every person is important, has value, and has something vital to contribute.