This transition between apostles—though gory in one facet and unique in another—is interesting in comparison to the succession of pastors in the church. While our modern call process—directed by committees, coordinators, bishops, and synod staff—is significantly contextually different (thankfully), it can sometimes feel to bare some similar emotions in transition from pastorate to pastorate. In a way, Matthias is the first to encounter the thoughts and emotions many of us have come to accept as normal for clergy beginning a new call. One can only speculate how it played out for Matthias. We never hear him ask the other disciples: “So about this guy, Judas Iscariot—how was he?” To know he followed after (and in place of) the one who betrayed Jesus, must have weighed somewhat on the new apostle and perhaps influenced his ministry. Imagine the comments he would have heard from others in the group or outsiders: “Well, Judas was always in charge of this.” or “Whatever you do, don’t do that. Judas tried it once—he upset a lot of people.”
It would be a lie to say each pastor stands on their own—disconnected from those who served before them and uninfluential to those who will follow. Each ordained minister serves as an episode in the long-running, ongoing sitcom that is God’s work in a particular place (some might term a Divine Comedy of sorts). In the ten months I have been serving here, I have learned much from parishioners (both intentionally and unintentionally) about previous pastorates—regarding their successes and failures. Each story serves to teach me something. Sometimes the lesson is immediate and explicit: “Don’t do that.” Other times, the answer appears to be a riddle that only time will reveal. In conversations with other new pastors and colleagues of mine, it is telling to hear them making similar discoveries when bombarded with stories of the past(ors) in those places. For some, they feel like they are succeeding Jesus, for others Judas. No matter the details, the main lesson that seems to be reinforced for me in listening to all of these people is: I am not any pastor before me—neither their successes (which are really God’s successes), nor their failures. I am ME—in all of my unique “successes” and failures.
As the pastor called to serve in this particular place at this time, I am (now) another step in the long line of apostolic succession in this church (both singularly and catholically). This, however, does not mean that the congregation simply forgets its past or people’s emotions change instantly. I am sure I will hear more stories about those who preceded me—whether in the form of comparison and/or complaints. Called to listen and love in all situations, part of my work is to hear people’s pain in their words and actions and their criticism of me (whether constructive or not), in part, as grieving previous pastors: those they loved and struggled to let go of, and those they disliked and still hurt from. Listening is crucial for me, as a leader, in order to build trust that perhaps was once concealed or absent. For the next pastor in this place, I may be Judas or I may sound like Jesus (emphasis on “sound like”). My hope is simply to be ME, and to serve as faithfully as I can—despite who came before me, and who is to follow.