The Central Massachusetts District welcomed its new superintendent, Rev. Megan Stowe, with an installation service that included some of the many languages spoken across this diverse district (click the video above to listen).
Clergy and laity gathered on Oct. 27, 2019 at Fisk Memorial UMC in Natick, where Cabinet Dean Jill Colley Robinson, who serves as Vermont District superintendent, welcomed Rev. Stowe and her family on behalf of the Cabinet.
Rev. Stowe and her husband, Stephen Schad, have two sons Galen, 13, and Desi, 10.
Calling her family Rev. Stowe’s first blessing, Rev. Colley Robinson passed along advice she received as a new DS from Bishop Sandra Steiner Ball: “[She] reminded all of us in attendance that God blessed us with our families first — long before any bishop discerned a call for us to the work of superintendency.”
“We welcome you to this great, new, blessed adventure in Central Massachusetts,” she said.
Speaking of Rev. Stowe’s joy in quilting, Rev. Colley Robinson said, “I can think of no better metaphor for her generous, grace-filled ministry than that of this art form. Megan is like those written about in Exodus 35 — ‘women whose heart stirred with a skill.’”
“She has over these past 15 years patched together a stunning pattern of advocacy for young clergywomen; of accountability through Tending the Fire; of counsel and coordination as chair of the Conference Boards of Higher Education and Campus Ministry and District Committee on Ministry; of collegial support through a myriad of cluster groups, Bible studies, and the like; of connection through her service as a page at General Conference; and most of all, of prophetic preaching and pastoral care for all those with whom she has been blessed to serve.”
Carrying the metaphor forward, Rev. Colley Robinson said she tried to find a quilt pattern that would describe the work of the Cabinet.
“The more I searched for the perfect quilt to show the true meaning and reality of this set apart ministry, the more I realized there is only one — the crazy quilt,” she said, getting laughs from her colleagues and the congregation.
The crazy quilt, she said, “… picks up pieces from every culture you encounter and experience you embrace the quilt with extraordinary beauty that emerges from seeming chaos and no pattern at all the quilt that hangs together by a thread, the thread of God’s almighty grace. And it is sufficient. This holy thread is enough. God’s grace is always enough.”
In making his introduction, Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar said, “All Jill has said I have seen in the life of Megan in the last few years.”
He recalled preaching at St. Paul’s UMC in St. Albans, VT, where Rev. Stowe was serving, and being “deeply impressed.”
“The church was full of children and people of all ages and there was a great joy in the church,” he said.
Calling her a “pastor par excellence,” the bishop cited her ability to be “prophetic and pastoral at the same time.”
“The original Hebrew of that word patiently that used to bother me so much says something like, ‘waiting, I waited.’ … It is an invitation not to live idly as time passes us by, but to persist in active hope. We, like the psalmist, are called to be active in our relationship with God …”
In her sermon, Rev. Stowe said she has returned to the place where she started her ministry 17 years ago as the seminary intern at Aldersgate UMC in Worcester (now the Jesus Life Center).
“I am so humbled to serve among the dedicated clergy and laity of this district,” she said.
Rev. Stowe recalled attending a conference for clergywomen where keynote speaker Rev. Dr. Karoline Lewis of Luther Seminary asked participants “to think of our ‘desert island’ Bible passage. … the one that we find ourselves turning to when things are difficult, the one that is foundational to our faith,” she said.
After considering some others, Rev. Stowe said it’s Psalm 121 she would want on a desert island.
“This short but meaningful psalm helps people through some very difficult times,” she said, but is also used in times of joy, such as in the Jewish tradition where the last verse “the Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore” is used as a blessing for a birth.
In fact when she and her husband toured New York Methodist Hospital they learned that a postcard of Psalm 121 was given to people to have in the delivery room. A year later, when their older son was born, they had one with them.
“That’s the beauty of this psalm,” Rev. Stowe said. “It is a song of ascents, a song at the beginning of a journey. Our journeys are so varied, yet it is applicable and meaningful in almost every circumstance. Whether it’s grieving the loss of a loved one, celebrating the birth of a child, or anything else you can think of, this song gives us hope for whatever lies ahead.
“We, the clergy and the laity of the Central Massachusetts District, which Rev. René Perez so lovingly nicknamed the Movers and Shakers District,” she said, “have started on a journey together.”
Rev. Stowe acknowledged that the churches in her district face challenges and uncertainties on that journey.
“Can we financially afford to remain full time? Will we be able to pay our mission shares in full this year? Where are all the families with young children?” she asked.
“But, she said, “it also a journey filled with great hope. We, like the pilgrims who have gone before, can see that God is a part of this journey – not just at the end, not just watching from above, but walking alongside us each and every step of the way.”
Rev. Stowe also encouraged district clergy and churches to walk alongside the mission of the church across the nation and around the world by “[continuing] to lead the Conference in mission shares paid, because we are a connectional system and when we fund these mission shares, we are supporting things such as campus ministry, Camping and Retreat Ministry, the always fantastic Mission u, sustaining new church starts and Latinx ministries.
“We are supporting the historically black colleges which have raised up generations of incredible leaders. We support the Conference Committee on Religion and Race as we start addressing the systemic racism that is present in our churches as well as in society. We support the Board of Laity who remind us that all of us are called to be ministers. We support Africa University which allows students from Africa to receive an undergraduate, graduate or seminary education. We support UMCOR which helps to rebuild lives and buildings after natural disasters.
“I hope for us to live up to our nickname as Movers and Shakers as we live out our ministry and mission,” Rev. Stowe said.
“I lift my eyes to the hills, from where will my help come? My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.”
“Whatever your desert island scripture might be, use it to draw strength as we embark on this journey together as the Movers and Shakers District,” Rev. Stowe said. “My hope and prayer is that you know and trust that God is with you. God will keep you. God will guide you. God will be with you as you struggle, grow, explore, and celebrate.”