on Pastoral Transition

June 5, 2024

Just a month ago the Session and congregation received the news of Dr. McConnell’s plans for retirement. Since then, the Session has met three times to understand and discuss the options available to us as we chart the way forward. We have sought the counsel of the General Presbyter of Peace River Presbytery, Rev. Melana Scruggs, about what avenues are permissible according to the Book of Order. We have also solicited feedback from our congregation and are grateful for the many of you who have shared your thoughts and opinions. With your feedback have come many questions that we are happy to do our best to answer. We hope these questions and answers will be helpful for you to understand where we are in the process and what there is to look forward to.

1. What are the details regarding Dr. McConnell’s retirement?
Dr. McConnell has informed us that he plans to complete his work at Church of the Palms on Friday, October 18, 2024. His last Sunday with us will be October 13. In light of the fact that Dr. McConnell has deferred several times his promised sabbatical, along with weeks of unused vacation and study leave, the Session took action to continue his terms of call (compensation and benefits) until March 31, 2025.

2. What relationship will Dr. McConnell have with Church of the Palms following his retirement?
Once Dr. McConnell completes his work on October 18 he will not be available, as per the policy of the Presbytery, for any pastoral services (funerals, weddings, hospital calls, etc.) or to participate in any other way in the life of our congregation unless specifically requested by the Session.

3. What decision has the Session made regarding the path forward?
The Session explored the options available per the Book of Order of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and has discussed these options along with the feedback of the congregation. At its meeting on June 3 the Session took action to proceed forward with what we know as the traditional search process of seeking a pastoral candidate from our larger Presbyterian Church USA denomination.

4. What does this “traditional search process” entail?
Under the guidance of the Presbytery, the Session will work to identify a qualified Interim Pastor (otherwise known as a Transitional Pastor) to serve as the Head of Staff and guide us through the transitional steps required for us to take in our search for the next Senior Pastor. These steps include the formation of a Mission Study Team to compile a Mission Study of the congregation. Once the Mission Study is completed and approved by the Committee on Ministry of the Presbytery, the Session will direct the Nominating Committee of the congregation to nominate a Pastor Nominating Committee (PNC) for election by the congregation. Once the PNC is elected, they will work to compile a Ministry Discernment Profile to assist them in the search for our new pastor. Once this document is completed and approved by the Committee on Ministry, the PNC will begin the process of vetting candidates for the position. Once they arrive at a candidate, they will propose him or her to the congregation for election as our new Senior Pastor.

5. How long does this process normally take?
Anywhere between 2-3 years once the retiring pastor departs.

6. What are the next steps?
The Session is sending a team of elders to appear at the Presbytery’s Committee on Ministry next Tuesday, June 11 to learn what options are available to the Session in its search for an Interim/Transitional Pastor. The Session will then discuss these options at its June 24 meeting and decide what next to do. The Session will inform the congregation as to the outcome of that meeting soon afterward.

7. What can the congregation do during this time?
Pray. Pray for the Session as it continues to thoughtfully discern the path forward and pray for our pastors and staff who continue to serve our congregation and guide us in our ministry and mission. And most certainly pray for our church family as we continually seek to be the light of Christ for each other and for the world. Continue to provide the members of Session any other feedback or information you think would be helpful for them in their work to lead us forward.

As the Session began this journey of transition a month ago, we read from the Book of Order these assuring words, “God has put all things under the Lordship of Jesus Christ and has made Christ Head of the Church, which is his body. The Church’s life and mission are a joyful participation in Christ’s ongoing life and work.” The ruling and teaching elders of our church believe this to be true and will lead with the confidence that comes in knowing that Jesus Christ will continue to hold us and lead us as we obey his commands to love God and love neighbor.

Soli Deo Gloria
The Session
June 5, 2024

    May 23, 2024

    The session continues work on the pastoral transition. In light of Dr. McConnell’s generous deferral of his sabbatical and study leave and vacation time over several years, the session thought it appropriate to extend his current terms of compensation past his retirement date (October 19, 2024) until the date of his dissolution March 31, 2025.

    At its May 20 meeting, the session met with Rev. Melana Scruggs, General Presbyter of Peace River Presbytery, who explained two transition path options, the current status of PCUSA churches, and searches for pastors. The session continues to be engaged in discerning the best way forward and will meet again on June 3. Should you have questions or concerns, please reach out to any of the session’s ruling elders.

    May 8, 2024

    The session had a special meeting this week on Monday the 6th, at which they shared feedback from the congregation, heard a general description of the pathways for transition, and worked on plans for communication with the congregation.

    The Session is looking forward to the next Session meeting on Monday, May 20th with the General Presbyter Melana Scruggs to receive her expertise on the potential pathways forward. We want to hear from you! Should you have any questions or concerns, please reach out to any member of session. 

    April 30, 2024: A Message from Pastor McConnell
    Dear friends:

    Sixteen years ago, I said yes to God’s call through the Pastor Nominating Committee of Church of the Palms to preach to the congregation as a candidate to serve as your Senior Pastor.  It seems to me that it was sixteen months ago.  I wasn’t sure what to expect when moving to (what was for me) a brand-new church, a brand-new city and a brand-new part of the country.  Looking back, it was one of the best things I’ve ever done – sensing God’s call to come to the Sunshine State. 

    Over these 16 years we’ve experienced a lot together – the financial crisis of 2008, the transition of staff, the building of the Palms Center, the threat of COVID, the formation of a wonderful pastoral team and the expansion of our mission to the community and to the world. Having faced into all these opportunities and challenges we are now in a very healthy place and prepared for what God has in store for us.  

    Pastoral ministry has been a journey of joy for me in all the churches I’ve served.  I have the best job in the world.  It’s hard to believe that in a couple of months I will turn 66 and, in the fall, will have completed 40 years of ordained ministry. Time flies when you’re having fun.  Part of me wishes I could be your pastor forever and share the journey with you into the bright future (and it is bright!), but “to everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven.”  And for me it is time to turn the page.  I have decided to retire. I do so with the sadness of loosening ties with you all, but also with the joyful expectation of what lies ahead – time with my family, exploring new interests, giving energy to concerns that matter to me, traveling, taking pictures and occasionally sleeping past 6 am on a Sunday.  

    I informed the Session and staff of this decision just yesterday.  Soon they will communicate with you about the next steps in the transition process.  We are blessed with a wise group of elders and staff who will lead this congregation on the right path forward.  

    This is not happening right away.  My final Sunday won’t be until October 13, so there is time for us to connect and share over the months to come. 

    In the meanwhile, please know of my love for you and my gratitude for your invitation to serve you.  It has been one of the greatest seasons of my life.

    Grace and peace,
    Stephen D. McConnell
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