Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
On November 4, 2012, Grace Presbytery installed me as the pastor of Ridglea Presbyterian Church, and on that day, you answered these questions affirmatively:
(1) Do we, the members of the church, accept Ryan as our pastor, chosen by God through the voice of this congregation to guide us in the way of Jesus Christ?
(2) Do we agree to pray for him, to encourage him, to respect his decisions, and to follow as he guides us, serving Jesus Christ, who alone is Head of the Church?
(3) Do we promise to pay him fairly and provide for his welfare as he works among us; to stand by him in trouble and share his joys? Will we listen to the word he preaches, welcome his pastoral care, and honor his authority as he seeks to honor and obey Jesus Christ our Lord?
As we stood together in the sanctuary that day, neither you nor I could have anticipated that God would soon be calling us to go from that place to a land that God would show us, but you have been faithful, brave, patient, and kind as together we have navigated a complex and emotional relocation process.
When we decommissioned the Camp Bowie building last summer, I envisioned a day in the near future when together we would dedicate our new home on Southwest Boulevard. I was convinced that the ministry task that God had set before me was to lead Ridglea Presbyterian Church out of the Camp Bowie Building, into our temporary quarters in River Oaks, and finally into our new site on Southwest Boulevard.
However, as Scripture reminds us, “my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.” Although I was not anticipating or seeking a new call, and although my Personal Information Form has not been in circulation, nonetheless early this fall the Spirit began a conversation between me and the First Presbyterian Church of Athens, Georgia.
When it became clear from those initial conversations that the Spirit might be calling me to a new ministry, I had myriad reservations and objections. Amy, the boys, and I deeply love the people of Ridglea Presbyterian Church. As we have proven time and again over these years, a church is not a building, it’s a people! Even though Nathan and Daniel were just 18 months old when we arrived, this is the only church home that they remember, and it’s the only church home that Joshua has ever known. The boys attend a fabulous Fort Worth ISD school, and Fort Worth is a fantastic place for young families like ours. The thought of leaving all of that behind is almost more than our hearts can bear.
Nonetheless, despite all of our hesitations and objections, it has become abundantly clear to Amy and me that the Spirit has other plans for us.
Therefore it is with heavy emotion that I announce that I have accepted God’s call through the voice of the congregation to serve as the Senior Pastor and Head of Staff of the First Presbyterian Church of Athens, Georgia, and I have requested that Grace Presbytery dissolve the pastoral relationship between me and Ridglea Presbyterian Church effective Monday, February 4.
I imagine that this news will raise many questions, far more than I could hope to answer in this letter. Know that just as it has been since our first day together, my door is open to you, and should you desire to talk with me in the weeks ahead, I will be happy to meet at your home, your workplace, or just about anywhere else that is convenient and comfortable for you.
The Committee on Ministry of Grace Presbytery is already working on a pastoral transition plan, and the church is in the excellent and capable hands of the session. As Ridglea enters this season, it is my hope and prayer that you will covenant to do three things:
Be diligent and consistent in your prayers. Pray for the session of your church, lifting up each elder by name. Their leadership and guidance will be invaluable for the church in the coming months. Pray for the Committee on Ministry and for the presbytery as they assist the session and the church as a whole. Pray for your church staff, remembering how hard they work to empower you in your ministry. Pray for the next pastor of Ridglea Presbyterian Church, remembering that even though he or she is unknown to you today, God has already selected your next pastor.
Be diligent and consistent in your worship attendance. During a pastoral transition, it’s common for some people to drift away from church for a time while they “wait and see” who the next pastor will be. Remember that you have been called each Lord’s Day to come together to worship the Triune God, not the preacher, and your presence and your positive energy are needed and valued more than ever.
Be diligent and consistent with your financial support. You are a generous congregation, and Ridglea’s mission and ministry must and will continue in the midst of this transition.
We have been a good match, and in these six-plus years, we have accomplished much together. We have weathered challenges and setbacks that could have easily broken a less faithful congregation. Your next pastor will find a congregation that knows who it is now and who God is calling it to be in the future: connectional, inclusive, intergenerational, generous, deliberative, and musical. She or he will come to a building that is newly renovated and expanded and located in the geographic center of its current membership in a neighborhood that it has known and served for over seven decades. She or he will come to a congregation with no debt, a healthy and growing endowment, and a people who are ready and willing to do the work that God is calling them to do. She or he will find a congregation that knows how to love and invest in its pastor, tolerate mistakes with grace, and celebrate successes with abandon. The future for Ridglea Presbyterian Church is exceptionally bright.
As sad as we are to leave Fort Worth, Amy and I are excited about what God has in store for our family. FPC Athens will mark its bicentennial in 2020, but I will be just the eleventh senior pastor in 200 years. The congregation has developed vibrant children’s and youth ministry programs that will continue to carefully nurture the seeds of faith that you have so faithfully tended in the hearts of our three sons. Athens is home to the University of Georgia, and like Ridglea, the congregation is full of leaders who desire to make an impact on their community for the kingdom of Jesus Christ.
Words cannot express the deep and heartfelt gratitude we feel when we think of you, so I will turn to God’s Word and these words from Colossians 1:
For this reason, since the day we heard it, we have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God. May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
May the Lord watch between you and me while we are apart one from another.
Rev. Dr. Ryan J. Baer