As a Christian pastor, death and resurrection are pretty real things to me. Jesus’ death and resurrection lie at the heart of the faith I proclaim. In the lives of the people I serve, I am routinely invited into deaths and resurrections of persons and families, though none of them are ever what I would call routine. They are always holy moments.
Death and resurrection imply the reality of endings and beginnings. I have entered into a zone of vocational ending and beginning, a kind of death and resurrection. After a long period of conversation and discernment, I have accepted a call to a new congregation. I will be moving from the western suburbs of Chicago to Door County, Wisconsin to serve as pastor with the people of Shepherd of the Bay Lutheran Church in Ellison Bay. (If anyone is interested, you can read the letter I sent to the people of Faith Church announcing the acceptance of the call.)
This is now the 4th transition I’ve made as a pastor from one place to another, this one at the end of a 15 year tenure. They are always fraught with emotion. As a pastor, you become invested in a place and in the people there. People invite you some of the most intimate and vulnerable times of their life. You get to be part of their celebrations, their heartbreaks, their milestones and their disappointments. In December, I spent the wee hours of the morning two nights in a row in a room with a dying man, his wife, his daughter, and two of his granddaughters. It was a holy moment as the people who loved him most dearly sat vigil with him, sending him across the river to the Promised Land. Somehow, they wanted me to be there. In January, I presided at the wedding of a woman who had known deep disappointment when a previous engagement was called off just before the wedding. When she and her beloved pledged themselves to one another, I got to share the moment with a better than front row seat, so close that their joy spilled all over me.
Take these moments and multiply them by hundreds, and one begins to see how deeply embedded a pastor becomes in the life of a congregation and the people who inhabit it. The moments come and go; one savors the moment and moves on. I don’t mean to suggest they are unimportant. They are extraordinarily important; yet they come with such regularity that I never really spend much time dwelling on them.
Except that now as I prepare to leave, so many moments come flooding back. I look at a family in the pew on Sunday morning and I get a flashback of the funeral we did for Dad, or the time when the infant child who’s now in high school spent weeks in the hospital suffering from seizures. When I get an email from a former congregational president wishing me the best, I recall the capital campaign for which we shared leadership and how much I learned from this wise, faithful man.
One also gets to work with people for the sake of God’s larger purposes in the world. Now as I leave, I see with such clarity the great ministry that the people of this congregation do, the way we have made an impact in the community and in the lives of real people.
In the weeks to come, I will say more about where I am going, but for now, I am beginning the long, heart-wrenching process of saying good-by to people and a congregation that I have grown to love so deeply. We will remember together. We will savor these moments. We will laugh and cry together. And we will give thanks to God for prospering our work together.
When a colleague heard I was leaving, she sent me a Facebook message reflecting on her own pastoral partings, reminding me that as the Sent Ones, we love deeply but loosely. I like that phrase. Encapsulated in it is the transient nature of life. I picture life as a moving stream heading towards the ocean. For a time, we get to float along with the same people. Then the current changes and we get diverted to other channels in the same river, together, yet apart.
I had not anticipated that I would be leaving Faith at this point in time. Yet, the Spirit blows where she wills. She had created a restlessness that has found opportunity for a reset, to enter into a new season of life and ministry, and to do the work that I love in a landscape for which I have long yearned.
So, a heart-wrenching ending and a life-giving new beginning. Always held together in the love of the One who has called us his own.