Jan 03, 2024 | The Rev. Steven Morton

“At the age of fifty, they must retire from their regular service and work no longer.” (Numbers 8:25)

Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air…
We are such stuff as dreams are made on…

In William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, the enigmatic character Prospero utters these strangely satisfying words…words often repeated at the end of an ambitious campaign, or at a retirement party! 

Prospero’s pursuit of knowledge and implementation of strategies and schemes have been imperfect. Yet, they ultimately resolve themselves at the end of the play, in a world aligned with his vision of goodness and mercy.  He fades away, but the dream lives on.

At the end of a 45-year long fulltime career as an Elder in the Eastern PA Conference, and these last 18 months managing our Leadership Development Office, I observe (now) that my passion—my dream—has always been leadership development:  generally within local congregations, and specifically among fellow pastors.  My role now dissolves; but the work continues. And the dream lives on. 

“Succession is a primary focus for any well-managed organization,” said  Colonial Williamsburg Foundation Chairman Thomas Farrell. I look forward to the accomplishments of the new Associate Superintendents who will join the Pathways (to Congregational Fruitfulness & Health) promotion team, as well as the expanding vision of the EPA&GNJ Leadership Academy, which we launched in the past year. 

Church’s potential turning point demands new learnings

Our church is centuries old; but it stands at a potential turning point that demands new strategies and new learnings for members of all ages and spans of experience.  Human psychologist Erich Fromm once asked, “Why should society feel responsible only for the education of children, and not for the education of all adults of ever age?” 

In lauding the genius of President Abraham Lincoln, author Pat Williams says, “Great leaders must be lifelong learners.  There’s no limit to what you can achieve!” (21 Great Leaders, p. 230)   The Church today is calling for such ongoing education and training. And here in EPA, help is on the way.

My own education, and my teaching, will continue as well. In the New Year, the South District (my home for most of my EPA ministry career) will welcome me into the team of Assisting Elders. In addition, my passion for stewardship development will live on as I co-lead a cohort of EPA and Greater New Jersey pastors in “Generosity” conversations. I will also return to the Mid-Atlantic Foundation team (where I served on the board previously) that is recruiting pastors for the next round of its Financial Leadership Academy. 

Morton worked with the Rev. Johnson Dodla to plan a fall 2023 “Culture of the Call” clergy development event at Palmer Theological Seminary, where Dodla is Director of Methodist Student Advising.

Now I step off of the stage of fulltime ministry (well beyond the age restriction of Numbers 8:25, by the way). But I expect the future to be sufficiently filled with the work which still excites me. 

Where did the years go? I am resplendently mired in the Methodist movement in EPA. My childhood and youth were immersed in the West Chester UMC. I camped at Innabah and was ordained and married in Albright College’s chapel. All of that and more prepared me for 34 years of pastoring in the local church, four more as a District Superintendent, and recent service on our Conference staff. 

Ahhh! The revels I have known are now ended, as Prospero surmises in his retirement. Perhaps. Or perhaps not for me. The dream lives on, and I suspect you’ll see me again. 


Questions to consider:

Q.  If you are in a situation where a change of leadership is on the foreseeable horizon, what plans have been made for leadership succession?

Q. How can your church practice healthy ways of showing appreciation for those who have served long and well? 

Q.  What does a commitment to lifelong learning look like for your current leadership team?  And for you? 

*The Rev. Steven Morton retired as the EPA Conference’s Leadership Development Manager in December 2023, ending four decades of fulltime professional ministry.