May God Bless You and Keep You
The hardest sermon I preach in every church is my last one. Over the nine years, we have come to know one another and love each other. You have been so good to Jenny and me. When our granddaughter Gwen was born pre-mature, you prayed for her, made her a quilt, and continually asked us about her. You gave me extra time off so we could go and visit Gwen. What love you showed. As a grandpa, I have been touched by the love and affection you have showered upon Cruz and Sophi and their parents Luke and Melly. You were so kind to Tori and Ronan when they were living in the area. You loved my whole family and surrounded them with prayer. I will never forget it because that all-encompassing love and concern for family has not always been given to Jenny and me by the churches I have served. And, we will never forget how you sent us on a study leave. That trip was faith transforming and I hope some of the impact it made on my life trickled down into the sermons I gave. You made sure I took my days off, fussing at me when I would come into the office on Mondays, and just last year you had a preacher appreciation day, and the funds you contributed allowed Jenny and me to have a special time away. You have been awesome. It would be a whole lot easier to say good-bye to you now if you had been mean and nasty! Shame on you for making this day so hard!
But in reality, you have done what a church is supposed to do. You have lifted us up in love and we are grateful. And even more, I have seen this kind and loving spirit shared with all who worship with us. You care about people. You pray for them, help them, laugh with them, and cry with them. One of the amazing things about this church is that most of the time, when a member has a need, as you call me about it you have already strategized what could be done and are often implementing the plan. Well done! In the early church, one of the things the pagans said about the Christians was, “See how they love one another.” I have heard the same thing about you. I am told frequently about how awesome you are in caring for people, in reaching out to the community and welcoming groups into our space. Your love and compassion are your best evangelistic effort.
And, as always happens, I have been honored to walk beside you during some of your darkest moments. You have let me into your lives at times of loss, times of family crisis, times of illness and pain, and more. Those moments are why I entered into ministry, to be there for others when they need it most. It requires a lot of trust to allow someone into your life when you are feeling most vulnerable. I never took that trust for granted. You have humbled me by your acceptance of me at these times. Because of that, I have forged emotional bonds with you because I know what you have been through. For some of you, I feel as if I am now a part of your family. In leaving, this is what hurts the most. Having to step back from that day-to-day care and concern for you is hard. Know I will continue to hold you in prayer. I may not hug you every Sunday, but I hope you feel the love of God hugging you as you remember I am praying for you.
On the reverse side, Jenny and I have also been honored to celebrate with you moments of joy in your lives. We have broken bread together; we have been to birthday parties, a few of which were surprises, anniversary celebrations, and more. I have gotten to baptize a few grandbabies and perform some weddings. We are really a joy-filled congregation and each time we get together it is a moment of joy. We are both going to miss this interaction, seeing your smiling faces and celebrating with you. Again, thank you for laughing with us, hugging us, and partying with us. It has made these years fly by.
But now, our paths diverge. You will, in just a few hours, have a new spiritual leader. If you really love Jenny and me, and want to honor our service among you, then I want you to do this. Love Brad and Dorothy as fully and completely as you have loved us. That is the way you will say thank you to Jenny and me for the years we have been with you. Nothing will make us happier than to hear that ministries at TUMC are going forward and expanding, that radical hospitality is continuing and that you are reaching out in love to a hurting world. I know it will be hard to transfer loyalties. Change is always hard. But when you open your hearts to another, believing and knowing that they have things to teach you and if given a chance will love you just as we do then the path forward is easier.
When I was 18, that is 47 years ago, I realized that I could no longer ignore God’s call to ministry. Growing up in a parsonage with a father in ministry and a brother beginning in ministry I knew how hard this path could be. I wanted to take the safe route and become a CPA and hide behind a desk and a balance sheet. But God would not let me go. So I went through a home school study process to be granted a “License to Preach.” It was a forerunner of our current Local Pastor program. 42 years ago, I was ordained into the ministry of the Church and 39 years ago I began full-time ministry in the church. During that time, we have served 6 churches in this annual conference and three others while in school. We have learned things from each place we have been.
But you have been special. I can think of no better place to end full-time ministry than here. Your love makes it hard to go but it also leaves a sweet spot in my heart. You have been a blessing to us, and I hope we have blessed you.
Go in peace and God’s love will always be with us even when we are apart.