And last week, on August 15, 2014, we had an stupendous church party to mark the 20 years I have been pastor here.
As one of my colleagues noted, it was a unique occasion. Most often we mark a pastor and congregation’s connections when the pastor is leaving – or at the time of their death! Not often do we take the time in the muddle and middle of life together to mark all we have shared.
Last Friday night’s celebration was simply the best. It was a grand church party – with hot dogs and sloppy joes, cake and ice cream, a great band and testimonies. A chance for us to celebrate all that has been and all that is unfolding here in our life together as church.
Sometimes only a few words are needed. And for me on Friday they were “thank you.” And I am full of thanks for this congregation, and all the planners and preparers for Friday’s great party. For all the cards, notes, prayers – all the ways that have helped mark these 20 years – I am full of thanks:
For the congregation’s gift of a “Livery Pass” to the Center for Wooden Boats where I learned to sail last fall. For the next year I can go sailing in the great sea of Lake Union in downtown Seattle for free. And yes, it is true, I especially do enjoy sailing in the winter. I’m looking forward to sharing many voyages on my little sea with our congregation.
For my colleagues gift of a life-preserver.
And for a guy that struggles with getting lost, what a wonderful gift to receive a ship’s compass to mark 20 years.
20 years is something you could never plan. When Dave and I first came to University Church in 1994, in what felt like the “outback” of the Northwest, so far from what I believed was the “heart of civilization” on the East Coast where I grew up, I thought maybe 7 years would be enough.
But something happened. The move from a senior/associate to a team ministry structure enabled me to grow in ways that I couldn’t have anticipated. I was able to take on leadership and responsibilities in areas I knew nothing about. I got to learn about and grow to love elementary education and youth ministry.
I have had the privilege of working with wonderful colleagues over the years, each of whom has taught me so much about the craft of ministry.
And yes, I have been blessed beyond words by this congregation. I’ve found here with this community of faith, two qualities that have been essential for my own growth as a pastor: high expectations and deep love.
When expectations are high, it keeps me at the top of my game. And this congregation has. I don’t ever remember this congregation saying, “we did enough…”, “we don’t have to do that…” Instead there is a deep longing in this congregation that is always asking, “what more might happen?”, “why not?”, “what if…?” My ministry here has often been running to catch up, to celebrate and encourage the passions that have enabled this church to step again and again into change, risk and the unknown.
It’s true that I have failed here at learning how to “coast”. And that too, a gift. Instead, I’ve continually found myself changed and challenged, growing and deepening in faith by my ministry in this place.
And along with high expectations, deep love.
Yes, part of such love is sharing the joy of “you did a great job!”, and I have found such encouragement and support here along my way as I have grown and changed, tried and failed, stumbled and gotten up again.
But the other part of deep love is the love that dares to risk the honest word, to have the deep conversations. To share with me, “You disappointed me….I was hurt….I am frustrated….” The risk of having those conversations together over the years has opened the possibility to the very heart of community – the call to deeper listening, the invitation to forgiveness, the gifts of grace, and beginning again.
It has been an amazing journey of grace, sailing with this congregation as I have grown and changed over these past 20 years. For the gift of that grace, finally, there are no words. But only the offering of these tears of memory, thanksgiving and such great love.