Sunday night, February 13 and I’m gripping the steering wheel in the middle of a snowstorm on my way to Brookline. As the traffic slows to a crawl and the windshield wipers flap I wonder where I’m going and why I’m out here on a night like this.
The next Sunday, I shared that story with the congregation of United Parish in Brookline on our first time meeting each other. I wondered if a sabbatical season might be a time for all of us to open our hands. What might happen, I wondered, if we received the gifts of this moment in time we will spend together for the next four months while their senior pastor is on his own sabbatical?
That February snow storm now feels like a long time ago. Much has happened in the past four months. And yes, this time has passed quickly.
Now this morning as we prepare to gather for worship one last time, I wonder with the congregation, what did we receive in these past months?
I’ve received so many gifts. I came here full of questions about how I would like living and working in a city again after loving my immersion in the Maine Woods. I wondered how it would be returning to the familiar setting of a vibrant multi-staff urban church. I wondered on the possibilities of a sabbatical season. My time here has strengthened my call to a ministry of traveling with a community for a season of transition with all the unique possibilities that can arise in a time like this. I loved being in a city again and working with staff. I discovered so many trails to hike and run, the gift of trees and a river.
As I have shared with many, I have never felt so relaxed, non-anxious, grounded and present in my role as pastor ever in the past 35 years. What a gift of surprising grace that I take with me from here. Perhaps it was the particular role I filled or perhaps the specific clarity we named to define what our work was about and all it was not. Perhaps some maturity and perspective. For sure, a wonderful community and staff.
The gifts we receive in an interim time like this are precious and unique. But I’ve learned that unless we find ways to continue to practice them, we’ll usually just drift back to our more familiar patterns and habits. In the past months here, I went to yoga class, 3,4 days a week at a little yoga studio around the corner from the church. Most afternoons at 4:30, 5:00 I’d head over with my yoga mat tucked under my arm. I used to “hate” doing yoga. Here I discovered what a joyful difference it made to my body, soul and spirits. What I know on saying goodbye is that unless I commit to continue to practice, my days of yoga will soon drift away.
Yes, we did good work together. The staff and church leaders have shared how they feel grounded and empowered and with more energy than before we began.
Together, we walked through a particularly sad and violent season. We gathered right after I started to mourn the invasion of Ukraine. We gathered last week in a lamentation circle to grieve the past months of mass shootings at a grocery store in Buffalo and at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, the anticipation of SCOTUS overturning Roe vs.Wade. There have been hearings on the January 6 insurrection and so many other particular events in our personal lives and life together that have made this a challenging time with all the anger, anxiety and fear that can spin out of it. We needed each other to find grounding and hope, a way to move forward in courage and commitment.
In our final service together this morning, I’ll share that whether or not we opened our hands in these past four months, now is the most important time of this sabbatical. In some ways it all comes down to this, the opportunity for the community to open their hands to welcome with wonder their senior pastor home. I’m so curious to hear what happened in him, to him – what discoveries he made, what questions he returns with. And I am full of hope for the conversations the congregation will have with Kent after I leave as they share what happened to them as a community during this time. As they meet each other anew, what might happen?
This morning I will pass to the church moderator what was entrusted to me back in February – the keys to the church building, a parking pass and name-tag. We will offer words of release and blessing and there will cake outside to celebrate what we’ve done together. And then I will drive north to New Hampshire where I will be spending the next weeks at a lakeside cabin with family and friends.
I leave with the gift and blessing of tears. For if ministry is about anything, it is about the sharing and giving of our hearts to one another. Yes, love has been in the room here in Brookline and what a difference that has made. I will carry that gift in me, always.