The Rev. Odette Lockwood-Stewart has been named Instructor in the Practice of Ministry and Director of Field Education and Contextual Learning at Pacific School of Religion (PSR), effective Aug. 1, 2012. She preaches her last sermon as senior pastor at Epworth United Methodist Church in Berkeley, this Sunday (July 29).
"Reverend Lockwood-Stewart has led congregations and campus ministries for thirty-five years as an elder in the United Methodist Church," PSR states. "She has given professional leadership at international, national, regional, and local levels of the denomination and ecumenical associations, including as Director of the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry and as President of the National Campus Ministry Association. She has founded and re-vitalized ministries in health sciences, higher education, and community organizing. Having been founding Program Director of Contextual Learning, Odette returns to PSR after eight years of parish ministry."
She returns to full faculty status, as well – a rare honor. Yet the decision to accept the position was not easily made.
It was "after a great deal of anguished prayer and deep discernment," Lockwood-Stewart said, that she made the announcement to her congregation on July 1:
I had assumed I would continue as pastor of this amazing congregation for years to come. The bishop and our district superintendent, Renae Extrum-Fernandez, did not initiate nor advocate for this move in any way.
… I was not seeking to leave. [In] late spring, PSR completed an internal search and then a national search, and then approached me. They knew of my interest and work in founding the contextual education program 12 years ago. I agreed to meet with the committee. The president of PSR, Riess Potterveld, offered me the position.
This has been an extremely difficult and wrenching decision for me. I love this community and I love being in ministry with you – but this new position will bring together my years in higher education, mentoring, teaching, and pastoral ministry. It will also be a season to work with faculty here in Berkeley to help form and transform leadership for church and society.
I have served eight years as your pastor. I am continually amazed by your gifts and growth and discipleship. My heart is here.
"It's been an exceptional tenure," Bridges District Superintendent Extrum-Fernandez said. "That congregation, under her leadership, has been very productive in producing new spiritual leaders for the Conference and the denomination, and they're very, very strong. They have done some really exciting expansion, beyond their already-deep involvement in the community, to global missions of their own – they have a very exciting Nicaragua relationship with a village in Nicaragua, that they've been expanding, and [being] consistent with, for a number of years …
"They are always on my list of top vital congregations in the district," she added.
In fact, the Nicaragua relationship necessitated some early good-byes. "I'm saying goodbye kind of in shifts," Lockwood-Stewart said today. Last Sunday (July 22), she had to bid a more lasting farewell to Epworth's most recent mission team, as it departed for Nicaragua. "You can only imagine the tears that were falling on Sunday!" Lockwood-Stewart said.
She said there would be a dinner and full-out celebration this Sunday, beginning at 5 p.m., and added, "I'm looking forward to it – in a kind of tearful way!"
"I think it's a very healthy transition," Extrum-Fernandez said. "It's the 'best-case scenario' for a pastoral transition, where everyone's very happy for what Odette will be doing next. You know, grieving, yes – a long and deep relationship – but they're happy for her."
"They've had a long line of really wonderful – both prophetic, visionary, and empowering – clergy leadership there … Odette is only one of many that they've had," she added. "And they really have a sense of themselves … they've had consistent leadership for a long time, and you can see it in where they are now, and how strong they are.
"I would envy anybody going there."
In the short term, the Rev. Ron Parker (retired) will be assigned to serve the church on a less-than 40 hours per week basis. "I'm hoping we're just talking about a few months," Extrum-Fernandez said. "That gives the Cabinet enough room to do a good job, but doesn't leave [the congregation] hanging out too long."
She already has met with Epworth's Staff Parish Committee to review the process for appointing Lockwood-Stewart's replacement. "The Cabinet will be consulting on that," she said, "and then we'll be doing background work, and obviously whoever the bishop taps is a huge unknown, in terms of contingencies, at this time, and for this time of year … I can't be definitive about timeline."
Extrum-Fernandez said the process would involve sensitivity to how the congregation feels about actions by the 2012 General Conference (where Lockwood-Stewart was a delegate).
"One thing that's of some concern is that they are a very strong witness for inclusiveness in United Methodism, and the last General Conference has been a very painful experience to work through," she said. "Whoever goes there is going to really need to be a real present to the folks who are feeling so wounded."