I Learned, I Wondered….A Letter to the Congregational Church of Boothbay Harbor, Maine

As part of saying goodbye these past months I’ve been asking you questions.  

“What have you learned these past 20 months?” I mean, what have you learned about yourself, the church, your community or family?  

And a second, “As we conclude this interim time together, what do you wonder about?”  What questions linger?

Words cannot express all I have learned about the gift of this time here with you these past 20 months. This time of dislocation moving 3000 miles across the country to a town I’d never heard of in a place I’d never lived changed me. Thrust here with you into a time of crisis and challenge none of us had ever experienced before, I stretched and grew, was challenged and became more deeply grounded in my faith, call, passion, sense of self, values and commitments.

Among the gifts beyond words that I’ve received from this time, I put words to these:  

The Gift of Learning in Real Time.  I came here as a penultimate planner and organizer and grateful that within 5 weeks all of my fine “plans” were tossed in the air.  I was gifted by not being able to return to the ways I’d done things before but had to imagine with you new ways to do just about everything.

The Gift of Being Real is Perfect Enough.  Having to jump in to act before planning and figuring things out meant that I’ve had to put down my perfectionism which tends to rise to the fore when I’m stressed. Instead, I’ve been reminded by AV Technician Tom Dewey each Sunday morning that worship is not about doing it “perfectly” but in fact our mistakes, vulnerability and authenticity “makes” live worship streaming work.  In all the learning and newness I’ve become more fully “myself”, at home with my foibles and quirks. I’ve learned that I need to aim for 80% “good enough” and push “send” or “do” instead of wasting too much energy and time fussing over the remaining 20% to make it all impossibly “perfect.”  

The Gift of Putting Down the Stories.  I came here with 37 boxes of my past I didn’t need to keep hauling around. This summer with the help of good friends I was able to let go of what needed to go and hold on to the treasures that matter now.  Besides my 37 boxes, I came here with my 1001 assumptions about you, your church and how to do things. I delight that to date 100% of my assumptions have been wrong. Putting down my assumptions has opened me to other gifts I didn’t recognize, the gifts of wonder and curiosity. 

 The Gift of Wonder. Serving as an interim pastor has been good for my soul.  As an interim, I’ve had to put down my propensity to “fix” things (and the belief that I really can “fix” anybody!)  Instead, I’ve learned to celebrate when things break down for the opportunity it brings for wondering with you what to do and what we can learn from the breakdown. 

The Gift of the Word. The scriptures came alive to me these past 20 months like no other time in my life.  I was reminded how the Bible was written in times like ours – a time of crisis for a people in crisis. I can’t imagine not having a weekly zoom Bible Study to play in what we are discovering in the scripture together.    

The Gift of Each Other. I came here with decades of experience working on leadership teams but it wasn’t until this time with you that I really got into my bones just how much we need each other. None of us has what it takes alone to find our way through the immense and unprecedented challenges we faced these 20 months and are facing today. And yet, together, we found our way.  

The Gift of Technology. Among my 1001 assumptions were a lot of opinions and assumptions about the role and impact of technology on the life of the church. This year, thrust into being a “TV preacher” I learned with Tom and Genie and you how worship can work and connect on-line. Grateful as well for the experience of learning with you about the gift of Zoom Bible studies and support groups to create a deep connection and conversation with a new wide-spread community that could never have gathered in person.

The Gift of Growth. I came here with an interest in conversations on race and leave with a commitment that the ongoing work of becoming an anti-racist is a deep part of my ongoing passion and call. As a white man, I can step away from conversation on race and never think twice.  This past year taught me stepping away from becoming an anti-racist is a luxury that I choose not to take.  

The Gift of Maine.  Alright, I can’t say I have thrown myself off too many docks into the cold Maine sea, but I do delight in all my explorations of the wonder of Maine. Hiking all the BRLT Trails on the peninsula, tobogganing down an icy rickety wooden shoot in Camden over an ice pond, running the Waldoboro Half Marathon (aka. “All Hills.  No Frills”), conquering  the 100 mile wilderness (and my first multi-day backpacking trip), Katahdin, the Knife Edge (that I will NEVER do again), a tumultuous boat journey home after a joyous wet hike on Monhegan, sailing, sweating and swimming at 5:30 at the wonderful Y, missing all the targets and thankfully killing no real turkeys at the Fish and Game Club Turkey Shoot, Ham and Bean Suppers (pre-COVID) I have rejoiced in the wonders of your amazing state.  

The Gift of Trust. Another word for “faith” is “trust” and this year nurtured in me a deeper grounding in trust and faith than I knew I had.  As I step out of this  interim with you into my own interim of “unknowing” I head out open to the Spirit’s call and lead. Deeper than any anxiety I feel is a trust I know that I can and will work with the Spirit to set my sails and find the way.  

The Gift of Call.  I’ve grown personally and professionally in ways I can see now and in ways it will take stepping away to recognize. I leave with a deeper passion and sense of God’s call to continue to work with communities and individuals in the dislocation and opportunity that comes with the in-between. In the months ahead I’ll have time to hike and time to write. Time for solitude and time for community.  Time to take in the wonder of what has been and the possibility of what may yet be. 

And yes, as I set my sails to head out to sea, I turn back one more time and wonder, 

What will you and I do with the abundant gifts we have received in this time?

Will we use these gifts to maintain and support the lives we have had?

Will we use them to free us to live the life we are called to live more fully and make a difference in the world in ways we never before could have imagined?

Know I keep you in my heart, hope, prayers, now, always. 

Peter 

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