As the time draws near to take leave of my current call, the days are full and my mind is even more full. In the congregation, there is a never-ending list of details in order to tie up loose ends with the staff, congregational leadership, program, worship, and so many other things. We have our house on the market and when a request comes in to show the house, we have to drop what we’re doing and go home for last minute tidying and vacating our dogs. We are also in the early stages of purchasing a home in Door County, and all the thousands of things on the checklist of a home purchase. You get the picture. A lot going on.
Yet this is also a critical time for me and for the people of Faith to do a good job of saying goodbye.
Last week, I went to my last church council meeting. We went up the the sanctuary — our version of holy ground — for a ritual of leave-taking. I sat on a chair in front of the altar and one by one, each council member stepped forward, placed a hand or two on my shoulder and recounted something they have appreciated about my ministry and then offered a blessing or good wish for my future. The time concluded with all of them laying hands on me for a prayer of thanksgiving and blessing.
The next evening our Director of Youth Ministry, organized a going away party so that our high school and middle school youth would have a chance to say goodbye in their own setting. Having been here for 15 years, I have baptized a good number of them, which means for them, I have been their pastor for their entire life. We played some silly games, ate together, laughed a lot, and some of the high school kids spoke very specifically about what my ministry has meant to them. The evening ended again with laying on of hands and prayer.
In the nearly month since I announced I was leaving my email inbox has been full of notes of gratitude and remembering. I’m getting them in the mail, too. And in the hallway. And at the door of the nave on Sunday mornings.
It probably sounds like I’m trying to tell you know what a great pastor I’ve been. But that’s not the point.
The morning after the council meeting, Deb Hornell, our congregation president, my friend, colleague, and sometimes coach and mentor, emailed me with this message: “I hope you are able to absorb all the love, gratitude and good wishes coming your way. It struck me last night after Council laid hands on you how emotionally intense this process must be, and also how wonderful for you to experience what you mean to everyone. Few people get the chance to hear how they’ve made a difference for others.”
It’s that last sentence that really grabbed me. I think Deb is right. What I am experiencing is pretty unique. Not many people get the chance to hear how specifically they have made a difference in the lives of other people. For a lot of folks, the nice things that others say about them don’t get said until their funeral. How sad that they never get to hear them in life. All of this has been so wonderful and so wonderfully affirming. I have tried to record much of it in my journaling just so I don’t forget the impact of the experience. Quite simply, it is beautiful and priceless for people to tell you that you have made a difference in their life.
What could happen if we all took a little time in the ordinariness of the day to day to affirm the people who have touched our lives and made our journey more beautiful and vivid and meaningful?
It’s akin to a spiritual practice, and it makes a difference. I have encouraged my staff to join me in sitting down on Monday morning after a busy Sunday and write a few notes to the people who have touched them in the past week or who have gone beyond what they were required or who they witnessed doing something nice for someone else. The last thing on the agenda of our staff meetings has been “Blessings.” We have made space to tell each other when someone has done something well or gone beyond what was required. A culture of gratitude and affirmation is a pretty nice place to live.
So, if you’re still with me, will you do this? Sit down and write an email or, even better, a hand-written note to someone who has touched your life for the good. Tell them specifically what they have done and what it has meant to you. And would you agree to make that a regular practice in your life? As one on the receiving end, I can tell you that it means more than you will ever know.