You can view Pastor’s original letter below

Dear Church Family,

I have never been more excited about the future of Stillwater Church. While this season of pandemic is incredibly challenging around the world, I have full confidence that God is going to bring us through, and that we will be an even more fruitful and faithful church as a result.

Consequently, it is with very mixed emotions that I write this letter. The weekend of March 21, 2021, will be my final weekend at Stillwater Church, as Bishop Palmer (who oversees all United Methodist Churches in West Ohio) has appointed me as the new Senior Pastor at Anderson Hills UMC in Cincinnati. As a United Methodist Pastor, I can be appointed anywhere in the West Ohio Conference (over one thousand churches), and Anderson Hills is one of the top four churches in terms of size and ministry impact. Regardless, my heart is heavy as I prepare for this transition.

When I was appointed to Stillwater in 2012, Jennifer and I had a deep peace from God that this was exactly the place where God was calling us. Today, we can say with full confidence that we have that same peace from God, believing that God is calling us to pass the mantle of leadership here at Stillwater and step into a new set of challenges and opportunities.

That belief, however, does not lessen the deep pain of leaving Stillwater. We love you, and serving with you has been an indescribable blessing from God. Over the years here, we’ve grown from being a young couple with small children to a middle-aged couple with teenagers! Stillwater has transitioned from the verge of bankruptcy into a long-term sustainable and growing church. More importantly, we have celebrated so many baptisms, rededications, and innumerable opportunities for spiritual growth. God has brought new ministry partnerships, and strengthened long-term relationships.

Our staff team, unquestionably, is the absolute best that I have ever served with. They love Jesus and this church more than you could possibly imagine, and they serve with humility and wisdom. Beyond the staff, we have an amazing core of lay leaders who give tirelessly of their time, talent, and financial resources. Our church is in great hands, and I know that God has raised up the right team of leaders “for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14).

I know that you will have many questions, and I will address some of them below. Our Board is assembling a Transition Team that will help guide us through this important time as we prepare to receive our next Lead Pastor.

How do we find our next Lead Pastor?

Stillwater is a United Methodist church, so pastors are appointed by Bishop Palmer, who works with our local District Superintendent, Rev. Dr. Jocelyn Roper. Dr. Roper has already met with our Board, and they have provided input about Stillwater Church, and what type of leader will be most effective in our unique context.

Next, the Bishop will send the person that he plans to appoint to Stillwater for an “introduction meeting” with our Board and Transition Team. This meeting will conclude with Dr. Roper inviting our Board to voice their support, or lack thereof, for the pastor. I will continue to pray that God will send the right person for this next season of fruitful ministry here. I fully believe that will happen, and that God will bring about new and even greater things than what God has done already. Stillwater is an incredible church, and I am confident that our Bishop will send one of his best pastors to lead it.

I thought Methodist pastors usually moved in the summer. Is this a disadvantage to Stillwater?

Not at all. In fact, this puts Stillwater in a good position to receive our next Lead Pastor, as we are one of the first churches to receive a new appointment this year. It is possible that the new pastor will start on the March 28th weekend. It is also possible that there will be a brief interim between my departure and the start of the new pastor. As you already know, we have an incredibly talented team who will lead with excellence during that time. We are well-prepared for either scenario.

The reason for the timing is that I will be doing a three-month overlap with the retiring Senior Pastor at Anderson Hills. He has served there for eighteen years, and the church is quite large and thus our Bishop appointed me early so that I can be best prepared to lead after the pastor retires. Once the Bishop decides who Stillwater’s new Lead Pastor is, the staff and I will have lots of communication with him/her to help make this transition as smooth as possible.

Are you unhappy at Stillwater?

Absolutely not! I am blessed to serve with a “dream team” of staff and key lay leaders. The Board has been fully supportive of the work that God is doing here. I am generously compensated, both in appreciation and finance. There is no negative reason for me to leave Stillwater Church. However, I firmly believe that this is God’s timing, both for me and for Stillwater.

Uh, we’re in the middle of a pandemic and you are talking about timing. Could the timing be any worse for a Lead Pastor transition?

When I started in 2012, we had less than eighteen months to go until we were bankrupt, 70% of the budget was being spent on payroll, and most of the rest was going into the mortgage and basic support of the building. There was no money to fund the $300,000+ of facility repairs that were urgently needed, and we had been struggling to reach new people.

What a terrible time to switch pastors….or was it? While it was tempting to see those problems as massive obstacles to success, God helped us to see them as opportunities for new life as a church. Many new pastors are met with “That’s not how we do things here” when they attempt to make changes. Not me. I had the full opportunity to make changes because our circumstances mandated it.

In terms of local church strength, 2021 is a much better year than 2012. The pandemic is an incredible global challenge, but our church is healthy. Before the shutdown in 2020, we were growing in all metrics used to measure the health of a church. We spent less than we have received every year since 2012. Our facility is in good repair. Our staff culture is very healthy.

The new pastor will face the challenge of leading out of a pandemic, and like 2012, this will give Stillwater Church a new opportunity for fresh vision and change. This time, the financial resources are available and the changes will be driven by new ministry opportunities instead of pending problems. It is a perfect time for a new leader to begin the new process.

What does this mean for the Staff members? Will the next Lead Pastor bring in his/her own team?

The Lead Pastor is responsible for building the staff team. However, most pastors do not seek to make major staff changes in their first year unless there are problems. I have never been shy about transitioning staff when things were not working, and we have an amazing team who is doing great work. I am proud to pass this team to the next Lead Pastor, as I know they will be an incredible gift who will help the pastor to lead with excellence.

All church pastors and staff members are “interim” because it is God’s church, and we lead for a season. However, I feel very confident about the future of our staff team.

Will a lot of people leave our church because you are leaving?

I do not believe this will happen. There are few greater insults to a pastor’s legacy at a church than to leave when he/she leaves, because that demonstrates that the pastor failed to build a strong church, but instead built a cult of personality. I know that things will be different. There will be changes that you will love, and others that may frustrate you. But please give it a chance. God is writing a new chapter here, and you are a key part of that chapter.

How will I stay informed about this process?

The Transition Team will give regular updates to keep you fully informed about this important transition. If you have any questions or concerns, you can always email them at transitionteam@stillwaterumc.org. Also, I will be fully engaged in my work here at Stillwater, running through the finish line with the same passion and intensity that I have led with during the past nine years. You can email me anytime with questions or concerns at jon.ferguson@stillwaterumc.org. Also, I will continue to address questions in worship services this weekend, and in the coming weeks as well.

Additionally, we will have a Pastor Transition Informational Meeting on Tuesday, January 26 at 6:30pm where you will have the opportunity to ask questions of Pastor Jon and the Board

What can I do to help?

Please pray….

  • That God will send us the right next leader, and that we will be open to the new things that will come about in this season of change
  • That our Bishop and District Superintendent will hear God’s voice as they make decisions
  • That our staff will have the strength and energy needed to lead through this transition
  • That God will empower Stillwater in exciting, new ways to live out our mission: making new disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world!

In Jesus’ Love,

Jon