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  • Writer's pictureRev. Joel L. Tolbert

Rev. Caitlan Returns

Today, Rev. Caitlan returns from her half-sabbatical. (She will be taking the other half at some point in 2023). As Caitlan reenters pastoring among us, let's pause a moment, enter a prayerful space, and remember the purposes and promises we made to one another as we blessed Caitlan for her sabbatical.

We smiled and applauded with great gratitude for Caitlan's loyal presence, service, and sacrifice among us. She started years ago as a part-time youth director, and evolved to a seminary student, then intern, then full-time called-and-installed pastor. We admired with awe the speed and strength Caitlan has gracefully managed the evolution of her role over these years.

We remembered the special burden of the transition at Rev. Sara's retirement. This congregation chose to call a part-time interim consultant instead of an interim pastor, which put the weight of being defacto Head of Staff on Caitlan. The Session and leadership, with the help of Allison, Caitlan, and John, began confessing some of the challenges and changes in front of us but did not yet invest in making those changes.

We gave thanks for how Caitlan welcomed me, Rev. Joel, in early 2020. My arrival did not yet lighten the load on Caitlan. With John just retired and me a rookie, Caitlan carried most of the load again. She warmly supported my arrival and entry, invited me to lead or manage where and when I became comfortable, and continued to lead and manage in those other places where I was not yet ready. I was only here six weeks when...

COVID. Whatever pastoring was supposed to be, Caitlan and I both felt the radical change of plans that COVID imposed upon us all. We both wanted to be pastors to all of you, but pastoring under COVID took way more energy and felt less effective. The forced distance begin to put cracks in solid old relationships and prevented the easy growth of new relationships.

We remembered the effect on the staff dynamics as more staff changes began happening. Sara had retired in 2018, and John retired just as 2019 turned to 2020. Carol retired in the summer of 2020. Wayne tried to retire but died before he could in early 2021. Terri retired in spring 2021. Now, Kate has announced her retirement for the summer of 2022. Since 2018, all of the staff except Caitlan have chosen to move on.

As I found my COVID sealegs, I began to nudge the Session, Diaconate, and Staff to help me double-check the list of issues we had discovered and confessed during the interim. Caitlan was present and supportive through those discussions. She has had to serve as the institutional memory in Session, clarifying details from our past, and as the boisterous prophetess, reminding us of our promises to one another and our hopes for the future of this congregation.

Today, she returns to her present calling as one of the pastors of this congregation. I hope you will join me in prayer for her, just as boisterously as we prayed for her when she went on sabbatical.

Let's pray whatever rest she found in body, mind, heart and spirit lasts and never leaves. Let's pray for the curiosity to listen and learn from her, and to absorb the wisdom distance and time often bring. Let's pray for the courage to follow where she attempts to lead us. Let's pray for the understanding of any new habits or boundaries she may try to set for herself or for us. Let's pray her amazing personhood continues to be a home for many seekers, young and old, who wish to know and experience God in new ways.

Today, pray over the many prayer requests printed below. Listen for however God may be inviting you to respond. Then, as your prayer ends, pray for Caitlan. Lift up her name and face before God. Give thanks to God for her, and listen for how God wants us to help her lead us toward God's great community.

Blessing, laughter, and loving be yours!

Rev. Joel L. Tolbert

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