Brian–Twelve days, two more Sunday’s and I will no longer address you as Boss or “My” Pastor.
This is long, but there really isn’t any way to keep it simple. I knew this day would come, I just didn’t expect it yet. Actually, it was probably more like denial that it would happen this soon. Ministers or priests are often reassigned or are moved/called to serve in another congregation or in another capacity. While I am thrilled for you and your family as you embark on the next part of your life and faith journey, I am also (perhaps somewhat selfishly) a bit heartbroken that you are leaving us, leaving me.
I have embarked on a mission on my own life journey to write about looking at things with a different perspective, to encourage others to approach life with a more open mind, and to embrace their spiritual and faith sides with less fear. So, for the past week as I have worked to process the fast approaching change, and have shed quite a few tears, I have decided to focus not on the separation but rather on all of lessons learned, our engaging conversations and the gifts from you I can carry forward with me always.
1. Just because we screw up (and sometimes it’s big, really big) God’s love for us doesn’t waver. While people may be angry with us, be hurt by us, want nothing to do with us, God never leaves us and loves us at a level we can’t even begin to fathom. You were the first person I called (after my BFF) on a late December evening in 2012 when my world appeared to be falling apart and spiraling out of control. You didn’t hesitate at all to come and see me; to sit with me, to listen, to be a calming voice of reason, to pray with me and for me. You checked in with me often throughout the next year, not just as my boss or pastor but as a friend and let me talk…a lot. You provided sound advice and assured me that I was not alone and reminded me of how God is always with me. You gave me the gift of your time.
2. Humble Humility: You took a huge chance (not just thinking outside the box, but you threw that box away lol!) by allowing me to have time during a Sunday service in January of 2014. Wait, I need to rephrase, you pretty much gave me full control of the entire service! Who does this? A person like you, who saw me through my healing process, who walked beside me on that journey as a companion with Christ. A person who recognized that it was not only important to share my authentic, true self by sharing my story, but that others may benefit and learn from my poor judgement. Perhaps most importantly, you gave me an opportunity to show to others how, despite my fear or need for control, I needed God and so I gathered my courage, lowered my pride and humbly stood before Him.
You also appeared before us on a few occasions stating that we are all sinners and no one is immune. You shared your own personal stories of not so nice thoughts or actions you may have had or done and how you worked through some of those incidents and, in some cases, you are still working on them. It never felt like you were speaking at us or down to us–purely as one of us–brothers and sisters in Christ just trying to follow His Word and not always succeeding very well. You gave me the gift of strength and truth.
3. Reaffirmation of Not Living in Shame: God forgives us. Jesus died for our sins and in baptism, we are washed clean. As I stood in the pulpit that morning full of fear and shared the story of my lie and the hurts caused, you allowed me to tell it in my way. Through a mix of words, music, scripture and prayer, the grace, mercy, forgiveness and love of God filled that sanctuary. There where a lot of tears flowing that day, but more importantly, everyone walked away filled with the Holy Spirit. God’s forgiveness and love doesn’t mean we have free reign to do what we want because, oh, it’s okay, He will forgive us; it means that when we falter, we don’t have to carry the guilt and shame with us forever as a means of punishment. You gave me the gift of trust.
4. Fun in the Church: From corny jokes in a sermon or meeting, to coffee hours and Strawberry Festivals, and who can forget What’s the Word Wednesday’s, there have been too many laughs to count. You showed us how to minister using laughter. We can’t take ourselves seriously all of the time and church ministry doesn’t always have to be solem and ritualistic. You gave me the gift of joy.
5. Conversations: Whether you and I met over lunch or in the church conference room, we always discussed the importance of conversations with ourselves, with others, with God. We had a few great lunchtime discussions! We spoke often about how God speaks to us and we shared some different situations we experienced. I should have kept a tally on how often God spoke to me personally through the words of your sermon (oh, don’t forget that great topic for a sermon I gave you), through an email from you or another member, on my drive home or on a short walk. We discussed how to allow silence into our lives so that we can hear God’s voice speaking to us. It’s not always cymbals clanging or in the clap of thunder but perhaps a whisper on a breeze. You gave me the gift listening, teaching and prayer.
6. Embracing Vulnerability: When I returned from a weekend long healing retreat, I discussed with you the importance of allowing ourselves to be raw and vulnerable and although we are often afraid, embracing this side of us allows us to live authentically in our mortal and spiritual life. One of the most precious gifts I received from you was the time when we had lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe, and you shared a story from your life with me. Honestly, I don’t quite remember what it was about, but it was that you told me that by seeing me embrace my vulnerability you have allowed yourself to get more comfortable in doing the same. I value your trust and confidence in me and it is a tremendous gift to give someone. I thank you and am so grateful. You gave me the gift of you.
7. People Are the Church: You were bold again (throwing that box out the window) and asked people to pray out loud their joys and concerns. We prayed in small groups with and for each other, we gave testimony to how God is at work in our lives. People were afraid of this for quite sometime and perhaps some still are, but look at us now. Our members love that our congregation, small as it may be, feels like home and that no one judges or condemns them. A few weeks ago was just one example of how powerful it is to share prayers and the Word and to show God’s light and love through us and with us. Someone trusted enough to walk in, bare their heart, soul, fears, struggles and YOU and our members responded in the most loving of ways. You reaffirmed often that we are in that building because we want to be and need to be!
You perhaps explained it best in a recent message related to the Book of Acts we have been studying (I paraphrase): Is the Church a showroom or the service department? Most have us have been disappointed in or hurt by the Church at some point, This causes people to move churches or perhaps they stop going all together. What we want to be is a place were we go for service:
a. Being together is a reward
b. We are pulled out of isolation and to become a member in the community of Christ
c. It’s where the broken go for healing and growth, not judgement or condemnation
d. Each of us has knowledge and wisdom to impart from our own journeys
e. Disagreements are how we grow in grace
f. Sharing together in the word and prayer causes us to become the delivery channel for spreading the message of love
g. It’s not what the church does, it’s who we are cuts, bruises, wounds, sins, and all. We are love!
h. What we learn together: devotion and perseverance–I may have been hurt but I rise up in God’s mercy and love, we must be the change in the world. The church is a miracle, both a calling and a gift!
8. Dedication and Perseverance–There were plenty of times our church was on shaky ground due to lower attendance, diminishing financial means, arguments, etc. Your leadership shined through always in your ability to try many ways to grow not just the membership, but our overall community relationships. You made sacrifices that impacted your family; but through prayer and discernment, found the way and strength to keep fighting as God calls us to do. You gave me the gift of courage.
9. Love: The love you have for God, for your wife, your children, the community, causes for which you are passionate and for your congregation, even when it was sometimes difficult, is always visible. Even when tired, you can feel and see the light and love of God working in you and through you. You gave me the gift of friendship and love.
10. The greatest gift though is never letting the congregation (and me) forget that the most beautiful gifts of all are God’s abundant mercy, grace and love working in us, for us and through us. You gave to all of us the gift of yourself as a humble and faithful servant of God. I can only hope and pray that everyone gets to experience a church relationship like the one we have had with you for the past eight years.
I am so grateful and blessed to have had the opportunity to have you, Kim and the children in my life the past eight years. Your new congregation is receiving true gems in each of you. Although our day to day interactions may cease and I no longer will call you boss or my pastor, I will always and forever call you friend and brother in Christ. I love you and cherish all you have given me.