1 Peter 2:4-5
“Come to Jesus, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
A PDF of the sermon as distributed at Calvary is available for download and printing.
Priscilla Dwyer, Elder
I’m Priscilla Dwyer, one of your Elders and Chair of the Personnel Mission Team. It is my sad duty to announce that Session reluctantly accepted Rev. John Weems resignation as pastor and head of staff. Many of you received his letter electronically and we have mailed it to those for whom we do not have email addresses. There are also copies available here. John will speak shortly and will be available at 11:30 to answer questions in the Lounge. We love and respect John and are so very thankful for his ministry, leadership and vision as we all seek to know what God wants for us at Calvary in the 21st Century. Our prayers and good wishes are with John and his family during this time of change. Now Amy Hockman, who co-chaired the PNC that called John, will share her perspective.
Amy Hockman, Pastor Nominating Committee
When John called to share the news this week, he was apologetic. He knew the effort the congregation went through to choose him – a Mission Study team, the Pastor Nominating Committee (which Glenn Miller and I led), the Session and Elders. It is disappointing to not get the traditional 10 to 15 years from a Calvary pastor, but these are not traditional times. John joined us at a crossroads for Calvary. Attendance, pledging and volunteerism were all declining at Calvary, as at many churches across the US. Today, attendance and pledging have each increased by 20% or more. Volunteerism has doubled or tripled as the opportunities and connection to the community have increased. Our online and social media presence was weak when John arrived. On the committee, we noticed how far behind we were – “hey, we can see a video of this candidate’s sermons!”. Today, we effectively use our website, social media and post sermon videos. Today, we are present in both the physical and the digital world. Our staff is stronger, more cohesive and better managed than ever – allowing us to better understand what’s happening at the church and offer more effective ministries. Joann and Victor – with their considerable ministerial and preaching skills – are the strongest leadership team I have see at Calvary. When we called John, we noted his ability to fulfill on the congregation’s desires for a pastor, as written in the Mission Study Team’s report. I want to highlight those 3 items as I highlighted them to Session in December of 2012. John is dynamic, charismatic and has an ability to appeal to all ages. He has a strong ability to work with others, create consensus and to see programs and projects through to completion. John also has a natural ability to build personal connections with congregation members. John has delivered on what we asked him to do…and more. He needs to continue on his Spiritual Journey and find the right next steps on his path. We are all on that journey. As I absorbed the news, I realized I needed to respect his journey and support him as he has supported us – the Calvary Community. A Community that has worked through these transitions before and will again.
John Weems, Pastor & Head of Staff
Will everyone currently serving on Session (our board) please stand?
Will everyone currently serving as a Deacon please stand?
Will everyone currently serving on any team: worship, Calvary Foundation, cookie army, ushers, finance, teachers for children or youth, personnel, fellowship, senior adults, choir, welcome team, child, please stand?
Will anyone who has ever served as a volunteer at Calvary please stand?
Now, will anyone currently serving on staff please stand?
[In worship, the majority of the congregation was standing]
As you can see, Calvary is not my church. This is not the staff’s church.
This is not even your or our church.
This is Christ’s church.
When I say, “Christ alone is head of the church,” I mean that in submitting to him first and to one another in selfless agape love, we are preparing to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. I frequently speak of the “Priesthood of All Believers.” That is not the church equivalent of saying that everyone gets a trophy or we’re all winners. I firmly believe that we are all called to ministry wherever we are placed. For some, that means extending compassion to your really annoying neighbor in your apartment building. For others, the need is in your school or volunteer position or in your office. And for a few, it is within specific congregations with historic sanctuaries.
Some of you have asked me, “How could God possibly call you back into the business world?” I do not claim to have a stone tablet with directions and have wondered the same thing for more than two years. Through a process of prayer, counseling, and seeking input from mentors, our family has reached a place of peace that resigning from Calvary is a faithful decision. That includes input from my parents, Grandma Patti, and Colleen’s dad. I dreaded telling them, because they are so proud of my role here and brag (in the most Christian way J) to their friends about Calvary. Upon sharing the possibility of leaving this ministry, each of them shared that they had been sensing something and supported the decision.
I am honored to have served as the pastor of Calvary and am thankful to have partnered with you to put faith into action to serve as the hands and feet of Christ in the world these past 4.5 years. If all goes as I hope, my time with you will have been longer than the current President of the United States.
You have allowed me the honor of weeping and praying together through life’s dark valleys such as the deaths of loved ones and terminal diagnoses. We have celebrated together as we remembered God’s never-ending love through baptism parades and in sharing the Lord’s Supper. We have stood with our brothers and sisters facing injustices and lived as witnesses to remind the world that Jesus cares every bit as much about Philando Castile in Minneapolis or Mario Woods in the Bayview as any child of God in Pacific Heights. Though I will not be serving a specific congregation in the next season of life as a full-time vocation, I am not leaving ministry.
Through the years, many of you have said something along the lines of, “You are so blessed to have a calling.” And I have always responded with, “And so do you.” Our charge from Jesus is to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, mind, soul and strength . . . and to love our neighbors ourselves.
As I reenter the business world, I will try to follow the advice of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “If [one] is called to be a street-sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great street-sweeper who did his job well.”
So, in this next season of life, I will become what some people call a “tentmaker.” This term is derived from Acts 18:3 in which we learn that the Apostle Paul helped fund his ministry through the trade of making tents. Though I will not literally be making tents, I will be returning to the corporate world to earn a living. Bishop Jackson of Grace Tabernacle, my friend and our guest preacher last week, also did ministry this way for many years working at Bechtel and Genentech. I know that I will realistically need to invest significant time to ramp up at a new job, but my sense of call to care for and mobilize business people for good is stronger than ever. As a seminary student working in the Financial District, I had daily encounters with people who—upon learning of my background–would approach me with requests for prayer, career advice, and a broad array of spiritual concerns. By some estimates, more than 90 percent of San Franciscans will not set foot in any house of worship. For more than 15 years, I have felt called to help create an inclusive community that supports and challenges them.
Like most of you, the financial realities of life are an important factor in career decisions. Colleen and I have invested more than 15 years of our lives in seminary and ministry, and have actively avoided putting money first in our decisions. We now have college costs looming for our sons, and will likely need to help others in our family. I would not accept additional funds from Calvary when I am already very well compensated by church standards. Along with hundreds in this congregation, we have other staff working to make ends meet and pay for housing, healthcare and education. This church already has a significant budget gap and needs more of your support to fund the life transforming ministries already in place.
This brings me to the final key discernment factor that makes this feel like the right decision at this time.
While I don’t want to downplay how challenging a change in pastoral leadership can be, I believe with all of my heart that the team of staff and volunteers we have in place is poised to lead Calvary into God’s call for this congregation. I have the highest possible respect and admiration for the leadership of Rev. Victor H. Floyd and Rev. Joann H. Lee. Though their precise roles will need to be determined in partnership with our Presbytery governing body, they are capable of leading beyond what you have experienced—and that is saying something. In front of the scenes at worship, they join Michael Conley and John Walko as some of the most gifted leaders I have ever encountered. Behind the scenes they already help lead a staff that serves more than 150 young people, 100 older adults, and everything in between. I am confident that Victor and Joann were and are called to Calvary for such a time as this, but they cannot do it alone.
In the coming months, I pray that that the Priesthood of All Believers will step up even more than you already do—helping with visitation of the sick, praying for the ministry, working with children and youth, and generally being kind to one another.
When I shared news of the transition with Calvary Historian Joe Beyer, he was very gracious and shared some insight (as Joe always does). First, he told me that Calvary has had pastors here for much shorter tenures than mine, some less than a year. Second, he told me about something he had read in a Calvary bulletin from 1929. People sitting right where you are sitting now learned that many neighbors were starving and had no means of providing for themselves as the Great Depression devastated so many.
The Priesthood of All Believers at Calvary stepped up to feed one another.
Whenever people are hungry, this congregation steps up.
You are a holy priesthood. May the Spirit inspire you to serve as the hands and feet of Christ.
Victor H. Floyd, Minister of Spiritual Care
Gavin just read the 150th Psalm, which is the very last psalm in this ancient book of songs. You’d think that the final psalm might have a little more worldly wisdom in it, might share some parting thoughts, might make an assignment, ask us for a donation, tell us we’ll be fine, or at least refer us to a website for more information. But to end the whole collection of the Hebrew Psalms, the Tehillim, we are met by the most un-Presbyterian praise service ever assembled. Well, Psalm 150 was un-Presbyterian before John Weems came here. Here’s my paraphrase of Psalm 150:
Praise God in here, in the sanctuary, but also praise God out there,
in the heavens, in the world, in the streets
not just by what we say or sing, but through what we are and do
Praise God with Dave Scott’s trumpet and Ian Fabrini’s guitar,
Praise God with Michael Conley’s gospel tambourine,
Nicole Person-Rennell’s dancing,
Praise God, with Nancy’s flute playing, and John Walko’s most brilliant organ postlude!
Let the cymbals crash, and clap your hands, O ye people!
If you’re still breathing — says the psalmist — praise God somehow:
in here, out there where Jesus is waiting with a face you never suspected,
maybe even practicing a different religion,
Jesus is waiting for you to serve and heal.
That’s how things should end, indicates the Psalmist, with a whoop of praise.
In the midst of this unexpected news–that God would actually have the audacity to call John Weems away from her to do something else altogether – I am heartbroken. I’ll be losing the best colleague I’ve ever had, someone who breathed a second chance into my ministry in the Presbyterian Church (USA).
Now hear this: Joann Lee and I are committed to the future of Calvary Presbyterian Church, and we, with God’s help, will continue the good works that John established. With God’s help, you will step up, you must (that’s always been the case), because if you believe in God you are called to serve and to praise and to give and to forgive – all those things – until it hurts or at least until it’s inconvenient.
No one gets away with reliving the past for very long. I don’t mean this to sound harsh or insensitive, but I know this: the past is dead and gone, and that’s the best thing about the past. The past is dead and gone.
Behold, says God through the prophet Isaiah, I am about to do a new thing. God is always doing a new thing. Here goes God again.
We are a healthy community. There’s absolutely no reason to choose fear, not if we take hands and face the future together. God is doing a new thing.
We will have an especially long period in which to say goodbye to John, longer than usual, longer than “recommended.” Joann and Mike, Austin and newborn Rose are all expecting a decent length of maternity leave, and Rose needs her mama at home until September.
Lou and I are not going anywhere. Joann is here, and she’s not going anywhere. In over 30 years of working in the church, I can say that the best staff I have ever encountered is here, and oh God please don’t let them go anywhere, not right now. All this will depend on you, on all of us stepping up, continuing to praise God every way we know how and trusting that the success of the church has never, nor will it ever, depend on anyone except Jesus Christ. This same Christ is alive in you, and in you, and in you – waiting to be realized, waiting to be acted upon, waiting to bless, heal and forgive. Let everything still breathing, praise God! Amen.