Well, it is Monday morning and I have preached my last sermon at Karl Road Christian Church as the full time pastor of the church.
We go today to Toledo to continue Christmas celebration with Chuck's family so it certainly does not feel like the "beginning" of retirement. And there is still a celebration party next Sunday so it is not the "end" of my time at the church yet.
But I am almost there.
I have not blogged much this month because it has been such a strange and weird time that I haven't felt able to put it into words. Even yesterday people asked me how I felt and my answer was "weird."
But this morning I just think I will unpack some of the emotion of all of this transition in my life and in the life of the church.
My decision to retire has been a long time coming - probably the seeds were planted two years ago. I have noticed a lessening of energy and resilience within me. At the same time I wondered whether this truly was a movement of spirit. My original "plan" was to wait until August or September of 2015 but as this year began I knew in my heart it was the last year of full time ministry for me.
What I have always known is how much I love being a pastor. I love spending time with God's word and wrestling with the weekly message that becomes a sermon. It is not easy but it is extremely satisfying. I love doing Bible study and watching the way the Word comes alive and we truly grow together. I love being with people in times of trouble and joy and representing God's presence and love. And I love praying - alone and in community and trusting and sometimes seeing God's activity in our lives.
The past two months have been a time of "letting go" in so many ways. As budgets are formed for the next year and new leaders are being sought I have known that I will not be present for this year. The elders are in a process of discernment about the interim minister and I have certainly learned to trust them. But it is very strange to let go ......
The greatest awareness of this time has been my understanding of how much I felt the health and future of the church rested on my shoulders. And letting go of that burden is (going to be) a gift.
I still feel it as I sit here but I know that gradually it will be gone. You can say - that it is Christ's church and it is the congregation's burden too. I remember going on a retreat and praying that I could just lay the church on the cross. And maybe I did for a time. But my reality is that gradually I start to feel responsible and this burden. And maybe this has something to do with having less resilience than I used to. Anyway, today I know that it was time to let go on every level.
The worship service yesterday was overwhelming for me. There was the awareness that this was "the last time" and it felt heavy. At the same time I wanted us to remember that it was, of course, about God. And the gift that God had given to me of this amazing relationship with the people of Karl Road Christian Church. My sermon was slow in coming and I found myself still working on it at 6 AM Sunday morning. My entire family was present - all three girls and their families and 2 brothers and their wives - who drove from North Carolina and New Hampshire respectively.
Carol and Sharon Fry did a duet that touched me immensely, Kerry and Nikki signed "Jesus the Center of my Soul," we ended the service with a litany for retirement and then the children - including 4 grandchildren - sang a "Thank you" song to me. At the end the entire congregation stood in my honor. It was unforgettable and overwhelming. And then last night my family came together at the Spaghetti Warehouse for a dinner in my honor. Whew! It is a lot!
And so I sit in my basement on the computer in what will soon be my new "office" and ponder all of it. At this moment I just am awed by the incredible blessing of being a pastor. During my sermon I quoted Ruth Haley Barton about this peculiar role being called by God to lead God's people:
"the great paradox of calling: God was saying in essence, it is all about you (because you are the one I have called) and it's not about you at all (because it was all about me and my work in and through you.)"
I have had some wonderful and amazing experiences during these years - like mission trips, leading retreats, walking in the gay pride parade, going to Nehemiah Action meetings, doing countless reiki treatments, officiating at weddings and funerals, leading games at VBS, being part of the Acts of Faith for the 12 Days of Christmas - it has been fun and really fulfilling.
I wonder what is ahead and truly who I am going to be when I am no longer a pastor. I have learned to trust God through it all. And I do.