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Time for introspection

A "transitional'' pastor will help Hernando United Methodist define its purpose and identity. Members will first look back, and then forward.

By GAIL HOLLENBECK, Times Staff Writer
Published July 1, 2006

HERNANDO -"Who are we?" and "Where are we going?" are two questions that the Rev. Lois Barnum wants members of Hernando United Methodist Church to ask themselves.

"I'm not going to bring that to them from outside. That's going to come from within them," said the church's new pastor. "But it's my job to lead them through a process that helps them discover that."

Barnum, 58, is a transitional, interventional ministry specialist. She recently completed training in helping churches find their identity and define their purpose. She will draw on that training for the next two years as she ministers to the Hernando church.

The role is a new one for the minister, whose last appointment, as associate pastor at New Covenant Methodist Church in the Villages, was to organize people and put the systems in place that would link the needs of the church with its resources. As senior pastor here, she will do that and more.

But first things first.

"I have been part of new church development, but church transformation is something that I believe I have particular skills for," Barnum said.

The first step is to explore Hernando United Methodist's history.

Barnum will encourage the members to ask themselves: "Where has this church been? What is there in our story of the past that says something about where we're called in the future?"

To help with the answers, the pastor has created a timeline to post in the church.

"People will begin to add to it," she said. "It's not just the church events, but when did they join the story? When did their life begin to be part of this church? What events happened in the world or in this community that this church had a role in?"

Once they have written their history, they will begin to work on their identity.

"Who are we? What are some of the distinctive characteristics of this church now?" Barnum asked.

She said it is important for church leaders to fully understand their part in building the kingdom of God.

"Many times leaders can inherit tasks and lose the big picture," she said, "so we do some intentional leadership development."

Remembering the heritage of the faith will come next.

"We'll be working on remembering what it means to be United Methodists," Barnum said, "to be connectional, to be welcoming to all people of all ages, of all situations. It goes back to John Wesley's phrase 'the world is my parish.' "

Once that is learned, it will be time to think about the future.

Barnum said each pastor brings something unique to a congregation.

"Each of us brings a particular passion and a particular emphasis that will give a flavor to the ministry for the period of time that a pastor is leading," she said.

She emphasizes two areas of importance.

"One is that the church is for all people. We don't do church for the people already here. Everything we're doing is for those that we don't even know, those not even here yet," she said. "I'm also very intentional about being inclusive of all ages."

Methodist ministry is a second career for Barnum. In her first, school social work, she worked with special-needs children and families.

Coming to Hernando United Methodist Church might have been a challenge for Barnum. Although full clergy rights were granted to women in the United Methodist Church 50 years ago, she is this church's first female pastor.

But Barnum said she has received a warm welcome and has sensed a sweet spirit among the members.

"I've been in ministry 10 years, and I've heard people say, 'I didn't know what to think about a woman pastor,' " Barnum said. "But many times people will then say to me, 'Because of you, I've changed my mind.' "

Helen Sells is the president of the United Methodist Women at the church.

"I think people just have to get over the idea of having a male leader," Mrs. Sells said. "It's going to be a new experience, and we're looking forward to having her as our pastor."

Barnum has been at the church for about two weeks. She said she is excited to be there.

"This is the day of new beginnings," she said. "It's a new beginning for me and it's a new beginning for this church. There are many wonderful churches around here. My prayer is that there's a new beginning for all of the various niches and corners of this community and that God's kingdom is built."

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