July 27th, 2017
I have always despised saying goodbyes. Whether to my grandmother as she stood frail on the porch of her powder-blue, clapboard home in Oklahoma; or to my best friend from my childhood as we departed for different universities; or to my mother in the last days of her battle with cancer. Apprehensiveness has for me been a frame of heart never quite far enough away. But parting ways and finding a fit word or act to capture the moment grips me like few others do.
This will be my final contribution to the Pastoral Backstory. The elders have wisely left it to Kevin, your new Interim Pastor (yes!), to determine how, and how often, he or others might offer timely words fitly spoken in the season ahead. But after 240 (or so) of these mental meanderings, I here offer my swan song.
For the next few weeks we will be getting our things ready for packing, finding a good home for our chickens, and attending to any loose ends related to the pastoral and administrative responsibilities I’ve been privileged to have these four and a half years.
I will preach before the stated meeting of the North Texas Presbytery on Friday night, the 11th, at Christ Covenant Presbyterian Church in Mesquite (you’re most welcome to attend!). Afterward the presbytery will ratify what you voted on last Sunday.
And then we will move our family on or around August 21st, closing on a home on August 24th. I will begin my pastoral duties at Grace Mills River sometime in September, likely having my installation service around the 24th.
But I want to devote my last comment in the Backstory to an advance application of the sermon I’ll give this Sunday from Psalm 136. (I know I’ve let the sermonic cat out of the bag, but just act like you didn’t see it coming.)
There are many things one might do in a moment of transition like this; I think there’s one that’s essential: to give thanks.
For what am I thankful?
- I’m thankful for the faithfulness to the gospel and the church among those who helped to form CtK long before I arrived.
I’m thankful for how you entrusted yourselves to me, one untested in the work of a solo pastor.
- I’m thankful for how you hung together as we zigzagged around this region, from hotel to baptist church to episcopal school; at every stop you were all both appreciative and also a good steward of the space we had.
- I’m thankful for how you invited me into your joys and your sorrows, into your unions, your burgeoning, and your partings.
- I’m thankful for a session which allowed me to learn what it means to moderate one; which gave me counsel and encouragement; and most of all which became men who are my friends.
- I’m thankful for how you were willing to hire (and pay) Kevin Gladding as our assistant pastor, both in what he added to our ministry at CtK, and moreover in how he has also become a dear friend to me.
- I’m thankful for the nights when “all” we did was pray together–taking God at His word and holding Him “accountable” to it by asking for what only He could do.
- I’m thankful for the stories you told me of difficult moments in your Community Groups when it became necessary to practice all those verses involving “one another”–including the ones having to do with forbearance and forgiveness.
- I’m thankful for your patience in the sermons that went long, your deference to the ones that borrowed some rather eccentric cultural allusions, but most of all your encouragement in sharing with me when a part I had or hadn’t planned was used of God to convict or console.
- I’m thankful for your willingness to participate in ancient but perhaps unfamiliar practices that have upheld the church in times of both anguish and complacency.
- I’m thankful for how you’ve come to one another’s assistance, time and again, frequently with help and always with prayer.
- I’m thankful for how you’ve looked to the interests of others in faraway places–from the Bahamas, to W. Africa, to Japan (to name only a few).
- I’m thankful for your willingness to share with us all your griefs when it would’ve been easier to keep them to yourselves.
- I’m thankful for how you believed that a people who pray together also play together.
- I’m thankful for how you entrusted me (and others!) with those most precious to you.
I’m thankful for you teaching me words, and songs, and games, and foods I would not have otherwise known.
- I’m thankful for how you cherished my family during our years together.
- I’m thankful for how you delighted in my father during his occasional visits in his final years, and then also helped me bury him with honor.
- I’m thankful for your willingness to experiment with what it means to worship, to serve and bring mercy, to cultivate those gifts among us that both reflect His creativity and also express the creativity that bears witness to Him.
- I’m thankful, and so very humbled, by the encouragement you offered even in the moments following our announcement of the process underway in North Carolina. As I told the people there, I was never so proud to be your pastor as when you spoke with kindness and faith amid the prospect of a transition.
- Most of all, I’m thankful for your willingness to learn with me in what it means to be faithfully present. I believe the concept became a reality among us in many ways. And in those ways I believe we grew in the ways that matter.
Brothers and sisters, you let a sinner like me try to lead you toward maturity, even as he was trying himself to discover of what he at times so fervently spoke. Before that truth I can only sit in a reverent silence.
But while gratitude is something best given of our own free will, may I proffer you some reasons why you can be thankful, too?
- You are part of a community that has weathered a great deal in its young life and stands now resilient and ready to persevere.
- You are led by a group of elders who are animated by the gospel and who love you all, and are therefore best suited to shepherd you in the years ahead.
- You are “getting” an Interim Pastor in Kevin Gladding who knows you, loves you, has spent time with you, and will therefore be a compassionate and capable shepherd among you.
- You belong to a community who believes in being extended beyond itself, both in service and in financial support. It is a church that is both solvent and wise in its expenditures. Do not take that for granted. To such a church it is both wise and incumbent upon you to maintain and where possible expand your support.
- You meet in a “clean, well lighted” place at Canterbury Episcopal School that is not only dedicated to forming young people for faithful vocation in the world but which is also an abiding advocate for all of what CtK is and does.
- You are, as a community, teeming with children–more every day it sometimes seems–who will always be needful of seeing what it means to have faith in the variety of ages and stations of life. It’s their parents who will need enduring encouragement and guidance from the whole CtK community. (And if you’re looking for one place to serve in the next season of CtK’s life, our nursery, children, and youth ministries will be glad to hear of your interest.)
- You are a community who is not content with carelessly throwing around a word like “community,” but instead takes an interest in pursuing what does not form without purpose or perseverance.
- And you are a community who believes the Gospel is worth the risk. From the perspective of Providence there is no such thing as risk. From our limited vision and oscillating faith, it often feels like risk, even if in the Gospel we have an inheritance not prone to loss. This community was both formed and will continue on that basis.
Yours and my reasons for gratitude are many.
As he prepares to depart with Frodo to the Grey Havens, Gandalf says to the hobbits they both leave behind,”Go in peace.”
But then as a final word: “I will not say: do not weep; for not all tears are an evil.”
Yes, I loathe goodbyes. You might also.
But this is not goodbye. We shall see one another again. It’s only a matter of time.
The Lord said so. And His steadfast love endures forever.
That’s why not all tears are an evil–and why we all have reason to be thankful.