Dear First Methodist Family.

I sent out a much longer letter to the membership of First Methodist two weeks ago, but I thought I would share an abridged version in this week's newsletter.  Here it goes! The last 19 years of our ministry at First Methodist has been eventful, and we've experienced many crossroads together, and we’ll begin our 20th year together on May 1st, 2017.    After much prayer, conversation with my mentors and friends, many conversations with my family, after dialogue with our Bishop and District Superintendent, I’ll be stepping down as the Senior Pastor of the First United Methodist Church of Waco at the end of June.  June 30th will be our last day, and June 25th will be our last Sunday in the role we have loved so much for so long.  As that 20th year begins, and as we look toward the change that is coming I believe that it is my continual quest to stay focused on the horizon, watching where God is moving, and I also believe the next five months can be the best of our ministry together.   But It seems clear that God is moving our family to a new future as we work during these next few months to prepare First Methodist for new leadership and a new future.  We have a Staff Parish Relations committee who will work with the Bishop, our District Superintendent, and with this congregation in selecting a new senior pastor.  I will not be involved in that process, but it will not be someone currently on our church staff.   I’m prayerfully keeping my eyes on tomorrow since I know that what the future God promises will be exciting and significant and I know this church is in God’s hands.  As Jesus said, “The wind blows where it chooses... So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8).  When we follow the Spirit, we become flexible and willing to innovate, recreate, recast the vision and find new vehicles to step out and risk going wherever God is leading, and the Ramsdell family is praying for the “what’s next” for us as we are praying for the “what’s next” for First Methodist.

We are keeping our eyes on Jesus as we begin the transition of leaving the safety, love, and security of First Methodist Waco.  However, we will not leave Waco, and we will remain in our same home. Our children and grandchildren attend First Methodist, and they anticipate no changes.  They are involved, active and committed to this congregation.  We are not moving, and we are not being assigned to a new congregation. The congregational leadership welcomed us back to another year of ministry and it’s been our decision to move toward retirement as we pray during this time of transition. This church has been our home, solace, comfort, security, love and ministry for half of our ministry   We have loved serving Christ with you and not pastoring this congregation will be one of the greatest challenges my family has faced.  But we have learned that God is faithful, and we are confident he will show us what is next for us. We are confident God will open new doors for ministry for us in the next few years, and the “God is Big Enough” theme continues to ring in our hearts as we look toward what God has next for us.   However, we know Waco will continue to be our home as our roots have grown deep here.

First Methodist has had many breakthroughs in the past twenty years, but they certainly have not occurred because First Methodist has a brilliant leader.  My wife and best friend, Susan, often reminds me that if God could speak through Balaam’s donkey (see Numbers 22:28-35), God can speak through me!  We’ve had a great twenty years together, and my family and I have been wonderfully blessed to have been in ministry at First Methodist Waco.  You have listened to the Spirit, and miracles have been the result.  I want to thank each of you for your part in the Miracle that has been First Methodist, Waco.

I affirm you everywhere I go as being a church with a matchless vision of the future and a deep-seated faith in Almighty God. You have impressed me with your desire to win the lost and set the oppressed free.  When I look out each Sunday, I see a congregation of great diversity.   I see people who have the wisdom that age and years of discipleship have won them.  I see young families with babies that are here with the great goal of raising their families as members of First Methodist.  I’ve seen broken hearts healed, broken lives restored, faith being born, and I’ve officiated at funerals when it was my privilege to speak to families about a heavenly hope in the loss.  I love the children’s time, and I love the prayer time.  I love those who have been members of First Methodist since long before I was born and I love those who are young and young in their faith as they begin their faith journey. I’ve loved baptized babies, baptizing believers, and receiving people into the church. I’ve loved the weddings I’ve performed. It seems like everything we had done before we came to this church was preparation for our time together.

My prayer is that this congregation will continue to do what you’ve been doing.  That you’ll continue to affect the lives of the people that live in our community and that you’ll continue your local and foreign mission emphasis.  My prayer is that you’ll continue to seek personal transformation and societal change.  My prayer is that you’ll continue to strive to make the Word become Flesh and that this word would dwell among you as you build the Kingdom of God. My prayer is that the next five months will be our best days of ministry yet and that the days beyond those months will hold an incredible future for this congregation.

Thank you for allowing me to be your pastor.  Thank you for allowing me to lead the best church in the country that is blessed with the best ministry and administrative staff that you'll find anywhere.  Thank you for allowing me the privilege of spending these twenty years in a work that is making a difference.  Thank you for the profound impact you have had on my family and me.  Thank you for teaching me and allowing me to teach you.  Thank you for loving my ministry team and for your patience as we have grown our church and faith together.  As we experience the next few months together, I continue to expect that each weekend of worship will be a time of miracles and growth.  We are in our “Life Together” message series, and I’m looking forward to sharing the message this weekend, “Hope Has a Name.” I expect that our church will continue to grow in faith and numbers during this transition because faith and growth are the nature of this congregation.

Rev. Pastor Steve