Clergy and laity from the Katahdin District gathered in person and online to welcome their new District Superintendent Rev. Rick McKinley at his Installation Service on Saturday, Sept. 9, 2023.
Bishop Peggy A. Johnson said she chose Rev. McKinley to lead the Katahdin District “because of his love for ministry in the state of Maine.”
“His understanding of church growth and leadership development make him a perfect match for the needs of this particular district,” the bishop said.
“And I remember how happy the people were on the day he walked in to meet the District Superintendency Committee,” Bishop Johnson said. “It was like a family reunion; it was like old home day. It was wonderful, and I know that joy will continue in the years to come.”
In the service held at First UMC in Bangor, Dean of the Cabinet Rev. Jill Colley Robinson also remarked on Rev. McKinley’s love for his new district.
“It’s very clear that you unapologetically love Maine; you unapologetically love and understand the people of Maine,” she said, adding that this appointment is a “spiritual homecoming” for Rev. McKinley and his wife, Lori.
Rev. Colley Robinson commended Rev. McKinley for being “unapologetically” himself as well citing his “jeans, flipflops and guitar.”
“You are already a blessing to this Cabinet,” she said, referring to Rev. McKinley’s work as Director of Congregational Development; a position he held from 2011 until this appointment. “Bringing your own unique, unique, cherished, casual, creative style to the table.”
You have “an impressive track record of making significant impacts in resourcing and developing congregations as well as planting churches across the Conference,” Rev. Colley Robinson said.
“You are an enthusiastic life-long learner who so clearly enjoys reading and learning and who delights in sharing resources and passing along new-found insights,” she said, adding a recommendation of Rev. McKinley’s video series Musings from the Mountain.
Rev. Colley Robinson offered a list of some of the gifts that Rev. McKinley’s colleagues on the Cabinet see in him; the list included:
Unabashed love for Jesus
Deep faith and authentic discipleship – both of which inform every aspect of your life
Responsiveness to God’s call – even and especially when it is challenging
Ability to name difficult things
Courage to take a stand
Enthusiasm, sense of humor, generosity, and compassion
Giftedness in teaching, mentoring and coaching
Your extraordinary giftedness – and I really mean extraordinary – in preaching and bringing scripture stories to life. (Rev. Colley Robinson specifically mentioned a 2020 trip to the Holy Land when Rev. McKinley told the story of David and Goliath (see him tell the story ).
Those gathered had the chance to see that gift for preaching for themselves when Rev. McKinley offered his sermon titled “Bright Light Living” based on John 12:20-26 and Matthew 5:14, “You are the light of the world.”
“Truly I tell you unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” – John 12:24.
“This is a really powerful metaphor Jesus uses here,” Rev. McKinley said. “Now I don’t know about you, but dying for most people means one thing: the end.
“But Jesus seems to be saying something very different. The grain of wheat doesn’t actually die does it? It becomes something else — the blade of wheat grass that will bear more grains of wheat. Jesus is saying, quite clearly I think, that to die is to change. To die is to become something different.”
“It turns out that being a church is being in the business of change,” he said.
“People who follow Jesus we have to be ready to embrace change. It’s not change for change sake … we’re changing toward something – to become like Christ,” he said. “To become like Christ is to live our lives the way Jesus would live our lives if Jesus were us.”
Another metaphor Jesus uses to describe our life together can be seen in the second scripture passage, “You are the light of the world.”
“We’re being changed to be more light; lighter, brighter … what I might call, the call to bright-light living in the face of darkness,” he said.
He told the story of a pilgrimage to South Africa where he and other pilgrims were asked to serve soup and bread to the homeless. Their van stopped by a large fence; the pilgrims were told to go through the small dark opening to find someone to give the soup to and stay and talk with them. Facing the prospect of going alone in the dark in one of the world’s most dangerous cities was difficult, he said, but they did it.
“Because this church knew — we weren’t just bringing food. We were bearers of light — the light of Christ,” he said.
We like the idea of living in the light. We just aren’t always ready to actually do it, Rev. McKinley said.
He offered what he called one of his favorite stories to illustrate this point. He shared the story of Charles Blondin, who in 1859 decided to cross Niagara Falls on a tightrope.
After the crowd saw him cross the rope first time, he proposed crossing again this time carrying someone on his back.
Rev. McKinley said, when Blondin asked the crowd “Who believes I can do it?” there were shouts and applause of agreement. When he asked, “Which one of you will be the person on my back?” Not a soul spoke.
Finally, Blondin’s manager, Harry Colcord, agreed to get on his back and the two made it across the falls.*
“Don’t miss the point,” Rev. McKinley said. “A whole crowd said they believed it could be done. “Only one had the faith to get up on his back.”
“Imagine if we were a church that from Limestone to Eastport to Greenville Junction to Bangor, Maine – to all the towns in our district,” he said. “Imagine if we were the church that woke up every day and said, ‘Today we’re running light into darkness.’ Amen.”
Choosing a District Superintendent is “not a small decision,” Bishop Johnson said, because it is not just a decision she makes as an individual, but it is a function of the office of bishop.
The crosier, the symbol of that office, represents: “our leadership, our call to unity; a reminder to keep the main thing, the main thing, which is to preach the good news of Jesus Christ to this world and make disciples and change the world with that amazing love of Jesus.”
“So I trust my life to you, Rick,” she said. “I know can you can do far more than you can ever imagine cause God’s power is with you; it’s very evident.
“So I call on all of you,” Bishop Johnson said, “to give your utmost support and prayers to him as he leads in this very unique and wonderful time in the life of this Annual Conference and also in life of the world.”