Pastor Emily Cannon is currently serving as a TIM associate pastor at Saint Paul United Methodist Church, Lincoln, Nebraska (2013-2015).
When I enter my office on Monday morning, one of the first things I do is glance down at my (cheerfully color-coded!) calendar and look at all of the events and meetings I’ve got scheduled in the coming week. And there is always one particular commitment that always brings a smile to my face: the “Emily’s Friends” committee meeting.
The Transition into Ministry (TIM) program offers a number of amazing benefits to young clergy in the Great Plains conference — we get to work with a senior pastor who mentors us during the first two years of our ministry, we get to meet with the other TIM associates on a monthly basis for conversation and fellowship, and we have a fabulous TIM director who provides us with additional support and mentoring. But in my experience, one of the most enjoyable parts of being a TIM associate is the opportunity to meet with a lay committee.
The TIM lay committee is a group of laypeople from the local congregation who act as a sounding board and support system during our two years as associate pastors. Unlike the Staff-Parish Relations Committee, a TIM lay committee doesn’t submit any official evaluations or fill out appointment recommendations for the TIM associate. Instead, they’re a group that covenants to meet with the associate once a month and provide support, advice, and honest feedback.
A couple of months before I arrived at Saint Paul UMC, my senior pastor emailed me and asked me what kind of people I’d like to have on my lay committee. I didn’t have any specific requests, so I just asked for a group that represented the demographics of the congregation and that would be able to bring a diversity of opinions and experiences to the team. And that’s exactly what I got! The seven members of my lay committee members range in age from mid-20s to early 70s, and they come from all walks of life — the one thing they have in common is their passion for SPUMC and their enthusiasm about welcoming a young pastor into the church community.
I first met my lay committee about a week before I began my appointment. They took me out for breakfast and coffee on a Saturday morning, which was fantastic: it was a great opportunity to get to know some names and faces before my first Sunday at Saint Paul, and it was also a chance to share a little about myself, my call story, and my joys and fears about my first full-time pastoral appointment. It was at that first meeting that they decided to dub themselves the “Emily’s Friends” Committee, and I am pleased to report that they have absolutely lived up to their name! Of course, this doesn’t mean that we were braiding each other’s hair or playing board games together…the relationship between a TIM associate and her/his lay committee is definitely a professional one. But at the same time, it’s a little closer and a little more informal than the typical pastor-layperson relationship; the members of my lay committee probably know me a lot better than the average parishioner does, and they all went out of their way to get to know me and provide support as I began my ministry at Saint Paul. Indeed, during my first few months in Lincoln, my lay committee members were instrumental in helping me and my husband feel at home in our new church and our new city. They invited us to lunch after worship, they helped us get to know other members of the church community, and greeted me warmly every Sunday morning.
My lay committee is also a great source of wisdom and advice, and they give me feedback on several different aspects of my ministry at SPUMC. When I was preparing to go before the Board of Ordained Ministry and request status as a Provisional Elder, I talked to my “Emily’s Friends” team about the sermon I was planning to submit, and they gave me some great ideas to enhance my message. They also encouraged me (and gave me film suggestions) when I mentioned that I would like to start a film and theology discussion group during Lent — and that group became one of our most popular and most well-attended Lenten activities! They’ve listened to me talk about big pastoral firsts — my first baptism, my first funeral, my first wedding—and they’re always asking questions about my experience in the TIM Program and in the ordination process. And, possibly best of all, they hold me accountable for taking my day off and using my vacation time!
My lay committee is a safe place where I can talk about my work and the things I’m learning, where I can share my ideas, and where I can get high-quality and honest feedback from committed laypeople who care about me, my pastoral career, and the future of the UMC. After nearly a year and a half with this amazing group, I am convinced that this sort of built-in support network is something that all new pastors could benefit from. (Actually, I have a feeling that not-so-new pastors could also benefit from a program similar to this one: after all, even a clergyperson with 20+ years of ministry under his/her belt might enjoy the opportunity to meet with a team of allies and supporters when they begin a new appointment!)
Imagine if every pastor who arrived at a new charge was greeted by the “Friends of the Pastor” committee—a group of people who could show the minister around town, introduce her/him to other leaders in the congregation, and provide helpful feedback about the church’s traditions and ministry needs. Consider how such a team might be able to help a pastor’s family feel welcome in their new community, and think about how helpful this kind of committee might be when the pastor embarks on a new sermon series or introduces a new Bible study. The support and wisdom I’ve received from my “Emily’s Friends” committee has been invaluable, and I know that they have helped me become a better and more effective minister!