On Oct. 23, 2022, the Many Waters District officially welcomed its new superintendent, Rev. Arlene Tully, and her four-legged partner in ministry Nali. The Installation Service was held at Brunswick UMC in Maine.
Rev. Jill Colley Robinson, Dean of the Cabinet, welcomed Rev. Tully on behalf of her colleagues.
“Arlene, you are already a blessing to this Cabinet. In my own words and those of my colleagues on the Cabinet and to name a few of your gifts which we witness and celebrate in you:
you have a patient, non-anxious presence;
you bring a steady influence and you do not get ruffled;
you blend compassion with accountability;
you are a quiet champion for colleagues and friends;
you are a willing servant leader who says ‘yes’ to God’s plan through the bishop without complaint;
you have a great sense of humor;
you are thoughtful and inquisitive;
you pay attention to details;
you possess a pastor’s heart;
you hold silence in a way that is grounded in grace and that enables wise discernment;
you are honest and faithful.”
Rev. Robinson also welcomed Nali; the Golden Retriever is an ADI-certified Facility Dog.
“As you once said about this ministry, ‘Nali’s job is to love people unconditionally.’ Dare I say that we,” Rev. Robinson said, “the bishop and Cabinet, need unconditional love. The people of your district need unconditional love. We all need the gift of Nali, your partner in ministry, and receive her with great joy, respect, and appreciation.”
Quoting Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s book Gift from the Sea
, Rev. Robinson said she was offering both “a description of who you are and a blessing for who you will become in this holy work.”
“Don’t wish me happiness,” Lindbergh writes. “I don’t expect to be happy all the time ... It’s gotten beyond that somehow. Wish me courage and strength and a sense of humor. I will need them all.”
“The sea does not reward those who are too anxious, too greedy, or too impatient. … Patience, patience, patience, is what the sea teaches. Patience and faith. …”
Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar began his remarks by saying that the “choir set the tone for this service; as they said, you are precious in the sight of God.” The choir from Pleasant Street UMC in Waterville, ME, performed “Be Not Afraid” as the anthem.
The bishop then spoke about his appointment making process, which, he said, prioritizes those “who can deliver the gifts and graces of God for such a time as this.”
He also works closely with the District Committee on Superintendency, Bishop Devadhar said, to understand what they are seeking in a leader. With that information, he asked the Cabinet to propose some candidates.
“Arlene, when your name came, I said hallelujah because I knew that you would start your ministry in this district as a great leader with deep faith,” the bishop said.
Speaking of their work on the Conference Relations Committee, Bishop Devadhar said, “You were a great leader, gave honest opinions, looked at things, and you are a master or scholar of the Book of Discipline
… [You bring] not only that, but your heart for ministry.”
Bishop Devadhar also referred to Rev. Tully’s work on the Committee on Episcopacy calling her a “strong supporter and encourager.”
“I am grateful to you for saying yes to this call,” the bishop said.
It may have been that talk of the Episcopacy Committee that prompted Rev. Tully to thank them in her opening remarks.
Recognizing her mistake, she laughed saying she was, “jumping the gun here.” To which the bishop replied, “We never know.”
Rev. Tully began serving as Many Waters DS on July 1.
“You know, I’ve really enjoyed traveling around the district for the past three months getting acquainted with churches, pastors, and laity. I am especially grateful to those churches that have hosted my meet and greets,” Rev. Tully said.
During those sessions, Rev. Tully posed three questions to consider “as we envision the future of the Church in the radically transformed landscape of a post-COVID world.”
The questions come from Ronald Heifetz, founder of the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard Kennedy School and coauthor of The Practice of Adaptive Leadership
- What is precious and essential from the past that we need to carry forward?
- What is no longer serviceable and must be discarded?
- What innovations will enable us to carry the best of our history into the future?
“We are not the first Christians to ask ourselves such questions,” Rev. Tully said. “In fact, we stand in a long line of religious forebears who found themselves in a time of change or crisis in the world and in the Church.”
In her book The Great Emergence
, Phyllis Tickle theorizes sweeping changes in society and in the Church come at 500-year intervals. Tickle called this “The 500-Year Rummage Sale.”
Rev. Tully used Tickle’s metaphor as the theme for her sermon titled “Rummage Sale.” (Read the full sermon here
“Disposing of those unwanted and unneeded items,” she said, “makes room for new things. And, in the process of clearing out your attic, sometimes you rediscover treasures you forgot you even had.”
“History shows that the Church has had a regular pattern of rummage sales,” Rev. Tully said, citing:
- The birth of Jesus and Christianity
- The Dark Ages when the church went underground
- The Great Schism, which formed the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches
- Martin Luther and the Reformation
“In case you haven’t already done the math, it’s been about 500 years since the Reformation,” she said. “Tickle’s thesis was that the Church is ready for its next giant rummage sale – that in fact, we’re living through it right now.”
But this is not a time to lose hope, Rev. Tully said.
“What I want to suggest to you is that it’s not a bad thing. It may be an unsettling thing – perhaps even a frightening thing – but it’s not a bad thing. Because in these recurring rummage sales – these periods of upheaval, and sorting out, and letting go – the Church unburdens itself of what’s no longer needed,” she said. “It begins to focus time and energy and attention not on returning to the way things used to be, but on what God is doing in and through the Church right here, right now. It begins to focus on discerning where the Spirit is leading us into the future.”
Acknowledging the decline in membership and the number of full-time pastors and financial challenges, Rev. Tully chose not to speak of endings.
“What’s happening now is not the beginning of the end of the Church – it’s simply the beginning of something new,” she said. “Remember that, in those earlier rummage sales, the previous form of Christianity was never destroyed, but it did change. A new, more vital expression of Christianity emerged – one that was less encumbered by its former structure – one that grew and spread dramatically.”
And, Rev. Tully said, God will be with us through it all.
“There’s reason to be hopeful, because, in every 500-year rummage sale in the Church’s history, God has been faithful, and the Church has emerged renewed and revitalized. There’s reason to be hopeful because people are still hungry for what the Church has to offer – we just may need to find new ways of offering it. There’s reason to be hopeful because God isn’t done with us yet.”
The service concluded with Communion and was followed by a time of fellowship.