Shepherding the Church through Transition
Rev. Lucia Delamarter (MAT '93) knows a lot about transitions. Ever since she and her husband made their own transition from the West Coast to central Illinois six months ago, she has been pouring her energy into shepherding congregations and pastors who, for various reasons, are in transition. Moreover, Delamarter's very position signals a significant change--as the superintendent of the Gateway Conference of the Free Methodist Church, she is the first woman in the continental U.S. to serve as a regional superintendent within her denomination.
Delamarter provides supervisory support for the 33 churches and their pastors within the Gateway Conference, which includes central Illinois and St. Louis, Missouri. While she is involved in a variety of projects that range from church planting to property management to the assessment of candidates for ordination, she finds herself most frequently working with congregations and pastors who are adjusting to new situations. "I see my role as one of walking alongside people and groups that want to work out their issues in a healthy way," she says. "I help them find a healthy process for transitioning, and coach them through that process."
Part of the challenge of Delamarter's job is that even the landscape around her is changing, as jobs decrease and populations wane in many of the small towns within her region. "There are no quick answers to systemic changes," she explains. "Change is expected on the West Coast, but not here. People's way of experiencing life here is built around the stable and unchanging nature of the land. The challenge is how to keep the local church alive in these settings, to find the cultural rhythm and navigate the change."
Delamarter has been encouraged along the way by a strong sense of calling to this position. "The transition from the West Coast to the Midwest could have been overwhelming, but it has been amazingly easy--we knew we were called to do this," she says. "Despite the troubles I see, I believe at the core of my being that Christ is still Lord of the Church, and it is his desire that his Church be fruitful. God is doing things to get the Church's attention, and there is grace in that, although sometimes it hurts."
Delamarter's sense of calling has been confirmed by those she serves; the clergy and laity of the area have elected her to this position for a four-year term. Although she is a pioneer in terms of being a woman serving in this position, she doesn't focus too much on the history that she is making. "It's an honor to serve my denomination," she says. "I'm too busy to pay attention to gender." She appreciates serving in "a denomination that has believed in women in ministry from its inception. Women were granted a lot of freedom to do ministry starting in the 1890s; they were not always ordained, but still very much on the forefront of leadership." She sees her role in this dynamic as primarily one of "putting a face to our reality," in affirmation of the understanding that "the gifts of the Spirit are not gender oriented." Delamarter embraces this calling with creativity. As she explains it, "in areas where we have not necessarily had models we get to forge our own path; there are, in a sense, limitless opportunities."
When she reflects on her time at Fuller, Delamarter sees how God was at work along the way, preparing her for her current position. "Fuller broadened my horizons, and gave me collegial relationships with people of all stripes," she says. "I loved the cross-fertilization that came from that broad environment." She has found this expansive aspect to be especially significant, given that she is working in the same denomination in which both of her grandfathers were pastors. "It was good for me to see that God is bigger than my narrow world or my denominational affiliation. This has helped in my quest to work in mutuality, to feel comfortable at the table talking across the heart issues of what the Church is about and how she can be true to her calling," she says. This quest to nurture and strengthen the Church is one that has clearly gripped Delamarter powerfully enough to make all the transitions worth it.