It’s the same way with that final part of the sermon for tomorrow that wakes me at 2 in the morning and sets me scribbling with yet more things I want to say and not enough time to say it all.
These past three months of saying goodbye have been truly life-changing for me. I’ve learned to open myself to receiving – receiving expressions of love and gratitude and sharing myself in the messiness of my tears. Receiving the gift of time to just be together when there’s nothing more to fix, solve, worry over – but just the incredible gift of time to be together. As I have felt myself emptying from my place in this ministry I found myself already being refashioned into the new man and pastor I will be in the next season of my life. And how is it that it takes saying goodbye for all of this to happen? And yes, of course it does.
And so, amidst all the tears, it’s a gift to have a chance to say goodbye. And no, we don’t always get the chance to do so. So many times endings come with abruptness and disruption and there is no time for the gifts of a parting. Such a gift of grace when a goodbye happens full of tears of love and gratitude as these months have been for me. The faith, hope and love I have met here in serving this congregation that now gives me the faith – in fear and trembling, hope and expectation – to set my sails wide and allow the Spirit of the Living God to guide me into the unfolding of the next chapter of my life. And yes, an invitation for you as well, and this church to do the same.
A few weeks ago I came across an article for our church newsletter written thirty years ago by Bert Rutan. Bert was retiring from his ministry here thirty years ago and he wrote an article to the future minister that would serve in his place. I shared with Bert that I could echo the same things he said about his experience with the congregation here. He said that I could share his letter again and have us both sign off on it. So here, future ministers of UCUCC is a word written thirty years ago – and lifted up again this present day – from two pastors who served here a generation apart about our experience in this congregation that has changed our lives. We hold in prayer and hope that it will be for you as well…
To Our Future Ministers….
We don’t know your names yet, of course. We will eventually, when the Search Committees have completed their work and the Council has acted on the recommendation. For whatever help it may be, let us indicate some things we have experienced that you can expect….
Expect to find colleagues here who genuinely like each other and who will warmly welcome you, care about you, challenge you, and help you grow. Expect a staff that will work hard to make your ministry possible, a staff deserving frequent expressions of appreciation from you.
Expect a congregation that cares both about this church and this world, supporting each other but ministering beyond this building in Christian compassion. You’ll find here a ready willingness to disagree and an individualized articulation of faith and commitment that makes this congregation stimulating rather than bland.
You’ll need to be there for them in their times of grief and doubt, in their frustrations and their failures. But that will be balanced by the joys you will share: weddings, baptisms, confirmation class, supper. (They do like to eat!)
Occasionally you will question your effectiveness in a sermon or counseling situation or class. But if they know that you care deeply about them, and if there is congruity between what you say and who you really are, you will discover that mysterious thing we call Christian love sustaining their lives through you and deepening your relationship with them.
Concerning things you would like to see done – you may have to prod a bit at times. You may also have to learn to let go. (Bert and I both sometimes had trouble with that!) But you will find that, due to dedicated people on boards, committees, task forces and Council, you certainly won’t have to do it all yourself. You’ll meet retired professionals who rise early to make doughnut delivery runs to a mission downtown; families deeply involved in refugee or emergency feeding or mission programs; members willing to spend hours on the phone concerning pastoral care matters or stewardship; and many faithful people constant with their encouragement.
Expect something else. Though you may begin overwhelmed by the extent of activities and responsibilities here, as we did, you are apt to end up feeling that these were some of the best years of your life as we do. You will hear appreciation expressed when you feel that you don’t really deserve it and you will have someone tell you how much a sermon helped when you thought it was one of your least memorable ones. We give you fair warning: these folks will grow on you.
In the midst of it you may wonder if the long hours and the endless meetings, the frustration of not visiting enough or not knowing or doing enough, are worth it. But at the end of it, from the appreciation and encouragement that you have received, and from the love that you will have felt for them and from them, you will know it was all worth it.
As you seek to follow in the footsteps of Christ in this church, you will discover that you are walking with some of Christ’s finest disciples. And you will be thankful for all the joys experienced in serving God in and through the life of this congregation. Shalom!
Thank you Bert for reminding me, us, of all that stays the same in all that changes in life including the gifts of grace that this congregation has been and will be.
In faith, hope and love,
Peter Ilgenfritz – and Bert Rutan