(Column for the September 30, 2023 Auburn Citizen)
I tend to be a planner. I like an organized calendar, a budget, and an itinerary. My husband used to joke, “Stacy can be spontaneous, as long as it’s on the schedule.” But, as I have recently been reminded, there are your plans, and there are God’s, and they don’t always line up. You probably know the old joke, “How do you make God laugh? Make a plan.” Over the last year, I have found that joke to be funny, but not exactly fun.
Three months ago, I had barely even heard of the Finger Lakes. As a pastor from Texas, then living in Tennessee, I had only a vague idea of New York. There was “The City,” where I went to graduate school back in the 2000s, and there was, well, everything else that wasn’t The City. But none of that mattered to me, because I wasn’t headed to the Finger Lakes or any other part of New York. I was bound for Loch Ness, or Loch Lomand, or any loch/lake in Scotland. That was the plan.
Like many of us, COVID had challenged me to consider what really mattered and how I wanted to live my life. After a few years of discernment, some tragedy, and the help of a really good realtor, I was ready to pack up my life in the United States and move to the island of Iona, on the far west coast of Scotland. I had visited this holy island before, but this was my chance to make a more permanent move. I was offered a long-term volunteer position, which I could actually afford to do (see “really good realtor“ above). I gave away most of my stuff, put the rest in storage, and took advantage of summer sales in the South to buy winter coats that I would need during my stay in the inner Hebrides. I quit my full-time job in community outreach at a hospital, and my part-time job as a pastor at a small church, and got ready to fly off on a one-way ticket to Scotland to live out this adventure and implement the new plan.
And then that plan ran smack into the United Kingdom visa process. I won’t bore you with the details, but at the end of the day, my plans, and God’s plans, at least as I understood them, were not entirely compatible with the plans of the U.K. I did, and continue to, have hope that the “go volunteer in Scotland” plan might work in 2024. But, since this is 2023, I was stuck. And so, with no job, no church, no mortgage, and no plan, I did what we tend to do when we get desperate: I started searching Facebook.
I posted one post on a network for leaders in the Presbyterian Church, and explained that I had at least a few months where I had nothing to do, and did anyone out there need a temporary pastor? Almost immediately I got inquiries from Minneapolis, South Carolina, New Jersey, western Oregon, and a sweet lady who tried very hard to sell me on the virtues of Fargo, North Dakota (still never been there, but she assures me it’s great). And, as you might have deduced, I had one inquiry from a church in Auburn, New York, whose beloved pastor had just resigned to spend more time with his family. We chatted, I googled, they offered, and that’s how Westminster Presbyterian Church, and the community of Auburn, became my short-term home. And, as I realized only a bit later, this was God’s plan all along.
Since the beginning of August, when I joined Westminster as the temporary pastor, I have been uniquely blessed by the church community, and the broader city of Auburn. I have felt my whole self wholly welcomed into the family – my weirdness, my loudness, my dependence on Coke Zero, and my propensity to say “hey y’all” in almost all social settings. I have found a church family that is dedicated, compassionate, just, and kind, in a city of beauty and opportunity, and I love being here with you.
To be sure, this is no small thing. In my experience, there are few places where you can just show up, with all your skills and all your flaws, and throw yourself into the arms of people who already love you enough to catch you. Westminster is one of those rare places where their plan – to be a church “where you’re already home” – is not only theirs, but God’s as well.
So as someone who had barely heard of the Finger Lakes three months ago and would have definitely said “ki-yuga” instead of “kay-yuga,” I want to offer up my sincere thanks to Westminster and to the Auburn community for this unique opportunity to live out God’s wonderful, unexpected, and unplanned-for, plan.
Rev. Dr. Stacy Smith is the temporary pastor at Westminster Presbyterian Church. As of a few days before publication, she is very proud to have dipped her feet in all eleven Finger Lakes.