Concluding Pastoral Letter
All Hallows Eve
October 31, 2018
Dear Christian Church in Ohio,
Today is my last “official” day to serve as your interim regional minister. We have been on a challenging journey the past 16 months. In April of last year, I told the Executive Committee that I could not save the region of Ohio, but I would do my best to walk along beside the regional church as together we worked our way through challenging issues. At that time, we later came to learn, we really did not know the magnitude of the challenges facing our regional church.
I vividly remember an evening this past winter—in February, I think. Jeannine was visiting our grandchildren in Chicago. It was dark and cold outside. That evening, as I sat on the sofa in our apartment, I was overwhelmed by how much the Christian Church in Ohio had lost: relationships, trust, ministries, staff, money, identity, confidence, hope, even faith. It was like a death in the family. So many were hurting.
By the grace of God, by the diligent work of many individuals, and by the willingness of all to listen to God’s calling to us to continue the journey—through the pain, through a very lean time of disciplined fiscal affairs, where we have had to lean on each other, receive generously from the general church, and give more generously, and into a time of uncertainty, transition and dialogue about what might be—toward a future to which God is leading us, where we may discover hope anew.
Over the past 18 months, we have discovered more than we ever wanted to know about what could go wrong with the regional church. Over the next 18 months, we are given the opportunity to discover how to be regional church—the Christian Church in Ohio—in new, creative, faithful, and imaginative ways, as we live into God’s calling on our lives.
Over the past decade many, outside our denomination, have said to us: Disciples of Christ, you are the church for the 21st Century. Friends, now is our opportunity to live into the beauty others see in us as followers of Jesus. Maybe we have been given a gift? The world is waiting for us to open the gift—becoming all God intended us to be!
I have witnessed other church and large faith based organizations face financial insolvency and organizational disorientation. Through prayer and discernment, the leaders affirmed their mission and ministry were vital. The respective leaders and governance groups decided to lean in, face the challenges, work diligently, with integrity and with disciplined fiscal oversight. There was no quick fix. Hard decisions had to be made. But today each of those faith based organizations are healthy and fulfilling their mission and purpose. So too can the Christian Church in Ohio.
While driving to Columbus on June 25, 2017, I stopped at a City Barbeque just off I-71 on the north side of Cincinnati for a late lunch. I’ve been invited to enjoy City Barbeque today, as I leave Magnetic Springs. During the intervening months I have tried to listen to your stories. I believe that is the best way to get to know each other, to develop respect for one another, and even to grow to love each other.
I have tried to listen patiently and carefully. I apologize for the times I have failed. And, through listening, I have grown to love you, Ohio Disciples.
I will always cherish the opportunity to live in the Ezerins House for the past three months, and to learn the story of Magnus Ezerins and his family. Out of the generosity of your hearts you welcomed this war refugee family from Latvia to Camp Christian, and for 30 years they lived among you and served the camp and conference ministry of this region with you.
I am told that on July 4, 1976, during the bicentennial year of our nation, Magnus had a red ribbon cutting ceremony to open a new concrete sidewalk to the girls’ cabins. As he cut the ribbon he said to those gathered, “This is my gift to you. Your gift to me was saving my family’s life. I will forever be grateful.”
This is, I believe, the story of who you are as regional church—as Disciples of Christ—a welcoming, generous and faithful people. I love you.
I conclude my service as your interim regional minister with these words of blessing, which are frequently shared by my regional ministry colleague and friend, Bill Rose-Heim:
“…may there be more than a few unexpected blessings that surprise and delight you, as together we journey into the future - reminding us that God has more faith in us than we will ever have in God.”
Grace and peace to all,
John M. Richardson
Interim Regional Minister (Retired)