Unexpected Ministerial Changes Coming To Several Chattanooga Denominations

Monday, June 9, 2014 - by Ruth Robinson

Ministerial changes are coming to Chattanooga, some expected and some a surprise. Expected every year are annual appointments at the Holston United Methodist Conference. Those will be announced later this week.

In the Methodist process, change or no change begins with the local church personnel committee. They take their wishes to the Chattanooga District Superintendent who takes any changes to the bishop.  Pastors are appointed one year at a time, from June to June. The Bishop makes the appointment in consultation with the cabinet, comprised of the bishop and the 12 district superintendents.

Pastoral appointments are then announced at general conference.

Those are expected. Several unexpected changes among other denominations have been coming over a period of several months. Dr. William Dudley, long-time beloved senior pastor at Signal Mountain Presbyterian Church, is winding down his ministry following an announcement many months ago that he would be retiring. He gave the church a lengthy time to find a new pastor and that process has been going forward.

Then just this past week Dr. Tim Filston told the congregation that over the past months, his family has been in conversation with First Presbyterian Church of Thomasville, GA. They have extended a call for him to be their senior pastor and he has accepted. The family will move from Signal Mountain this summer after 11 years.

"There’s always going to be a feeling of interruption and unfinished business when a season of ministry comes to a close.," Dr. Filston noted. "We know that nothing in this life is complete until the trumpet sounds, the Lord makes all things new, and we say "goodbye" to goodbyes. We will be here a number of weeks. I will work through the end of the month. Our plan at this point is to move at the end of July."

Earlier in the spring, Dr. J. Render Caines, long-time senior pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church, announced his retirement after 25 years in leading the church to the East Brainerd community and in construction of a large Anglo/Norman Romesque building with multiple and far-reaching ministries.

"In Chronicles 28:9-10, as Solomon faces the impending responsibility of becoming Israel’s leader, his father David urges him to seek the Lord, to be careful, to be strong and do it.," Dr. Caines said.

In line with the Presbyterian Church of America’s Book of Church Order, this spring the motion was begun toward the calling of a new pastor. This is a lengthy process, the pulpit committee has been appointed and is at work. Once the congregation and the candidate agree then the Presbytery makes the decision to call the pastor and to install him as the new senior pastor.

"This is a moment of great importance in the history and future of CPC. Therefore, I urge you to seek the Lord, to proceed carefully, to be strong in your faith and then do what is required," Dr. Cairnes said to the congregation.

Dr. J. Render Caines has been Senior Pastor since 1988. He has served as a trustee of Covenant College since 1985, and also serves as board member and an adjunct Professor of Biblical Studies. Dr. Caines graduated from Covenant College with a Bachelor of Arts Degree. He also earned a Master of Divinity from Westminster Theological Seminary and a Doctorate of Ministry degree from Covenant Theological Seminary. Prior to coming to Covenant Presbyterian Church, Dr. Caines served on Grand Cayman Island, as well as Sparta, Illinois, Simpsonville, South Carolina and East Ridge, Tennessee. Dr. Caines has been an influential voice in the Presbyterian Church in America, serving as Stated Clerk of the Tennessee Valley Presbytery for eighteen years. He and his wife, Linda, have six children and twenty two grandchildren.

Dr. David Brown, long-time minister of Pilgrim Congregational Church, announced in April that he plans to retire at the end of the year. "While I know that this is the right time both for Pilgrim and for Barbara and me," Dr. Brown said, "this does not mean there are no regrets. I wish I was younger and could give another 10 years of service to you. But by the end of this year I will be nearly 77 years old. I do not feel that old but it is something I have to take seriously."

Recently Dr. Brown marked the 50th anniversary of his ordination. This also is the year when the church will celebrate it’s 100th anniversary. He said he hopes the next eight months will be a time of celebration and progress.

"Serving as pastor of Pilgrim Church has been the most meaningful ministry in my career." Dr. Brown said.  "Each of the 12 churches I have served had their own challenges and rewards, but Pilgrim is special.

"From my long ago days as a Boy Scout, I remember that we were told to leave a campsite better than we found it. This is in no way a criticism of those who served here before me, but I do believe I am leaving Pilgrim Church in a better place than I found it. This is something we have accomplished together. I am so grateful for what all of you have done in working with me to make this happen. A pastor is no better than the people and you are a great congregation."

A final thought, he said is that "you need have no concern about Pilgrim’s future. There are many fine younger clergy in the United Church of Christ who will be delighted to be considered for this ministry. At an appropriate time, you and your leaders will elect an interim pastor and a search committee to select a new pastor. Someone is going to be very fortunate to be chosen."

Finally in the current list of changes are two ministers at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. Associate Rector Suzanne Smitherman will retire in September. A church leader for the past nine years, she  made the decision this spring.

Andy Olivo who has been at St. Paul’s as a seminarian, curate and associate rector, will leave this week to become assistant rector at St. John’s Church, Lafayette Square, in the Diocese of Washington, D.C.

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