A Pastoral Change for Olivet

Dear Friends,

Please find attached a letter from Bishop Buss and another from Rev. Jong-Ui Lee.

I am writing to let you know that I will be stepping down as Pastor of the Olivet Church effective June 30, 2022. I have accepted a GCIC Western Pastoral position that has been offered to me by Jim Cooper as EVP with the full support of the Bishop. I have therefore written to Bishop Buss to officially resign as Pastor of the Olivet New Church.

I come to this decision via the significance of my age, longevity in the position and effect of Covid and vaccinations.

Upon arrival in Florida March of 2020, fully preparing to celebrate turning 64, I had already been considering when it would be best to enter my retirement phase.  Covid was announced as a world emergency the day after my birthday and I was advised to rush home and join the rest of Canada in locking down and awaiting the vaccination which promised to put an end to the developing pandemic.

These last two years have been extremely difficult and divisive at Olivet, perhaps more so here than in other congregations of the General Church around the world.

I believe foremost that someone other than me would be best to lead out of the pandemic phase and help the congregation return to healing and unity with a new 3 or 5 year plan.  I took the road less travelled by and accept the fact that for a good many people I represent a degree of the divisiveness of these past two years. Thus the timing of this change.

I reflect and rejoice nonetheless on what I consider significant pastoral achievements over the last 7 years since my arrival in 2015.  Olivet then faced a new challenge with three fresh administrators:  a new principal and two new pastors.  We worked well as a team to take up the Olivet Church and School Plans and move forward toward our goals.

My time at Olivet has been rewarding with preaching, teaching, visiting and counselling.  Over the years Gwenda and I have taken delight in open houses and Society parties and gatherings at the Manse.  We’ve offered well received marriage workshops, parenting workshops and couple counselling.  There is hardly a more rewarding hour and a half in my pastorate than the time I spend studying and discussing the Arcana in our bimonthly classes.

The weddings, baptisms and memorial services allowed me to serve at such intimate and important transitional times. Add to this the various Journey groups and other small group actives along with young peoples' programming over the years.

Gwenda and I look back with such gratitude and fondness for the pastoral uses served and the many people we have come to know on deep levels of mutual love for the Lord’s Church and each other.

Much positive work with the staff has involved researching and bringing in a new marketing company.  The Church, Sunday school and Day School staff each gave support to the Pastor’s office, doing hands (hard?) work with weekly meetings to “rebrand” ourselves.  Kudos to Jared Buss and Gabriel Pulpan for doing so much of the “heavy lifting” in creating a new face through our web site, our social media and marketing team administration.

The same for Kathryn Jutras working to run a well organized Sunday school with capable assistance from Naomi Reid, Karen Cooper and numerous other volunteers.

Early on in my pastorate we recognized the need to put the Olivet School plan on hold and I was able as pastor to pause, drop anchor and oversee a harbour year while we did major assessments.

We soon continued course and realized the next phase would involve outside help. Soni Warner was brought in and we had a year or so of deeper critical examination of not just the School, but more significantly of ourselves as Olivet Congregants offering this School as our commitment to community service and outreach.

Soon afterward we lost Gabe Pulpan, Sara Gatti, Karen Cooper and Judy Todd, all senior teachers and we worked through processing and creating a new School administrative team by yoking Val Younan, with Britt Wilson and Laura Braam as an interim solution.

Then Covid hit and we continued to make administrative adjustments, with Jared Buss called to Pittsburgh, Laura Braam assuming the Principal’s role, Jong-Ui Lee coming in as Assistant to the Pastor, and saying goodbye to Sandy Bradfield as Office Manager of 17 years.

Ever present serving as eyes, ears, heart and bones are the members of Pastor’s Council and the Olivet Board.  These volunteers have come and gone but consistently put in untold hours. Thanks to the support from Lynn Starky as Olivet chair, Amy and Jerry Jutras in the treasurer's  office, Janet Parker as secretary, David Simpson as vice chair and Val Younan providing ever needed and always wise guidance to Human Resources. There are so many more names I could include as I close out a letter which signals the end of my time here.

I feel very satisfied as I reflect over the years in what has been achieved.  I am saddened by the recent segregation which has taken place with the vaccination issue.  I will ponder as I move on how I could have better handled my decision and communications to remain unvaccinated while serving the congregation. I regret any hurt my decisions may have caused for some of you.   It was difficult at times not to become defensive in dealing with this very controversial issue.

Far outweighing that is the feeling of being blessed to have worked with so many dedicated people through such a sea of change.  I leave viewing much hope on the horizon for a unified and healthy congregation as we each move on.

It's been a pastorate of nonstop shifting winds, challenges and rewards, and now it is time to hand over the helm to new leadership.

Sincerely,

Michael

 A Letter From Bishop Buss

Dear Friends,

I write to address a pastoral change that is taking place within your congregation at the end of this church year, June 30, 2022. You will have received a letter from your pastor, the Rev. Michael Cowley, indicating his decision to resign as Pastor as of that date, and move to a part-time traveling role within Canada. I have accepted Michael’s resignation and look forward to the next chapter of his useful service
to the church.

An Interim Pastor

In light of that resignation, I am appointing the Rev. Jong-Ui Lee as Interim Pastor of the Olivet New Church. I do so with a great deal of gratitude and respect for Jong-Ui. I believe we can see the hand of the Lord’s providence in how things have unfolded. Almost a year ago he agreed to return to Toronto, and from everything I have heard this renewal of relationships has been a source of blessing. Jong-Ui is a
good pastor with years of experience. His wisdom is often expressed through a calm demeanor together with an engaging smile. He works well with people. He has had the time to reestablish working relationships with the teachers and staff. He has become aware of the issues at play within the congregation. I believe he is well-positioned to serve you as Interim Pastor.

Your response and engagement

As an appointed position, I acknowledge that there has been little process and as-of-self engagement from your congregation, aside from working with several people to coordinate this plan. A large part of that is timing in that we are late in the pastoral selection timeline for this year. Another is the availability of a pool of pastoral candidates for you to consider. I firmly support, however, the response of the congregation to this move. To that end I have arranged to visit you over the weekend of May 21-22, to be able to answer questions and to listen to your perspectives. A meeting will take place for this purpose after church on Sunday, with provision for in-person or remote attendance.

My expectation is that this would be a two-year appointment, allowing for an ability to settle into a pattern of congregational life post-pandemic, and to initiate a planning process looking toward the next phase of the congregation’s usefulness. Ideally you would have the opportunity to affirm your support for Jong-Ui as Interim Pastor, and we could organize a special meeting fairly soon to provide for that. This would not replace a more formal pastoral selection process which I envision commencing around September or October of 2023.

Assistance

I recognize that Jong-Ui will not be able to provide by himself all the pastoral care that your congregation has been accustomed to. Our inability to send you a full-time Assistant Pastor at this time in no way indicates diminished support for your congregation. We are working on a plan for assistance, utilizing the talents and time of several pastors. Jim Cooper has offered to help out. We are likely to draw on the visiting energy of Justin Schorran, and of Steven Gunther who will be serving in the Oak Arbor Church in Rochester, Michigan. We are determining who else might be able to visit Olivet on a regular basis.

Gratitude to Michael and Gwenda

Let me cycle back to your current Pastor, Michael Cowley. Michael, together with his wife Gwenda, will have served you for seven years. I am very grateful for the energy and love that he has brought to the use, even as I acknowledge with him that it hasn’t been completely without struggle. I know that Michael and Gwenda love every one of you and wish to continue friendships with you as they shift into
semi-retirement. One of the beauties of this situation is the opportunity for an appropriate time of gratitude and farewell. Michael and Gwenda will be staying in the manse for a few months, as they coordinate their move to Guelph and have a chance to process this change with all of you. We envision a send-off event, perhaps in September. While Michael will need to shift his focus to the visiting use that he is taking on, and his formal role within the congregation will have come to a close at the end of June, this arrangement will allow for a fitting and warm goodbye.

A prayer

The uses of worship, New Church education, and community in the Olivet New Church are precious. The Lord has been with your congregation for a great many years, and you have a proud heritage on which to build. Yet we can all acknowledge that the last couple of years have been challenging for all of us. I ask you to join me in a prayer that the Lord bless this change and lead us to see how the congregation’s uses can flourish. Please feel free to reach out to me with questions and comments. I look forward to visiting with you soon.

With affection,

Rt. Rev. Peter M. Buss, Jr

A Letter From Rev. Jong-Ui Lee

Dear Bishop Buss and Olivet Members:

I am writing this letter to confirm my acceptance of the interim pastoral position of the Olivet New Church. I am accepting this job offer with mixed feelings because the circumstance of the pastoral transition is somewhat unusual and unexpected. I trust in the Lord’s providence and pray that He guides and leads us at this time and that this decision will be the best option for the Olivet congregation, including Rev. Michael Cowley and myself.

I understand the nature of an interim pastoral position, and recognize that I have not been called through the normal process. I will serve the congregation in accordance with such awareness, helping to fully return to our uses after the many disruptions of the pandemic, and engaging with you in planning for the future.

I have grown to love the people of this congregation and cherish my relationships with so many of you. I would like to express my gratitude for considering and appointing me for this honorable position.

Respectfully,

Jong Ui Lee