Thursday, April 29, 2021

In a Holding Pattern...

Greetings, friends. Well, for someone who said he'd be updating his BLOG regularly, I would say that no entries since January 30 isn't very "regular." If this were about bowel movements, this blog would have had surgery by now, Here is my litany of excuses:

1. I'm getting ready to retire.

2. Things at St. Paul's have been hectic, both in working toward our transition in pastoral leadership, and in many of the "machinations" of administering the affairs of the church in the era of COVID-19. Most days, the last thing on my mind is this blog.

3. I'm getting ready to retire.

4. Since I came to St. Paul's with a few goals I had for the church, I'm in a mad scramble to either "finish up" or hand off several that I still believe have merit. A couple of the more substantial ones look like they will happen, thanks to great lay leadership in our congregation, and a sense of vision that is most impressive. 

5. I'm getting ready to retire.

OK, that's enough for now, on the "excuse" front. Most of the questions I get now are about how I "feel" about retiring from full-time, appointive ministry, which is what I'm doing. Please note that no Christian disciple actually "retires" from serving Christ and caring for the people of God! At least until they lay your carcass (or in our case, our ashes) to rest. One of my seminary professors reminded us that our diplomas do not have an expiration date. However, back to the "How do I feel?" question:

Actually, I feel "fine." My spouse and I made an agreement many years ago that if we were both still "here" at the end of 36 years of appointive ministry in my beloved denomination, I would retire. If this came to be, I would be almost 67, and she would be 70, and she wanted to assure that we could spend some quality time visiting our family, traveling (lots of car trips and Miata runs), biking, and other fun stuff, together. We made it, and while age has not left us totally untouched, we are both capable of what I consider remarkable activity, physically, and are generally healthy, so our "Post-Career Exploration" era is about to begin. 

At this writing, I have seven more Sundays left before returning to the pews for the first time in 36 years, for Yours Truly, fully expecting to feel--for at least a few weeks--like a turnip that just fell off the truck. We're going to "split the scene" at St. Paul's for a few months to give Pastor Amy plenty of time to get to know her new charges, but do hope to drag our turnip butts back to the pews at 1965 Ferguson Road, eventually, as 1) We like to be informed by women in leadership; and 2) We have always liked the theology and "style" of St. Paul's. We're expecting great things for St. Paul's under its new leadership, and would like to be a contributing, praying part of it unfolding over the coming years.

Am I going to miss stuff? Of course! As a certified "meeting animal," I may have to form a chapter of "Meetings Anonymous." ("Hi, I'm Jeff, and I haven't attended a meeting now for 7 days!") I love preaching and teaching, have found pastoral counseling very fulfilling, as well as the other manifestations of pastoral caring such as coming alongside a family at the death of a loved one. COVID has already severely limited participation in much of this, though--hospital visits have been all but impossible, except in the most critical cases. I'm kind of a "stewardship geek," so I WILL miss the annual stewardship campaigns, and helping guide my churches through key stewardship issues, but St. Paul's has built a solid stewardship program that has excellent lay leadership, so they won't miss me. 

What won't I miss? Well, the "Zoom tan" I'm getting from staring at a computer screen for hours and hours on many days, for one. I won't miss the stress of trying to make the "right" or "safest" decisions for the church in this COVID crisis, and even though I'm not alone in making those decisions in a large church like St. Paul's, there is always that "The buck stops here" thing that comes with the title Lead Pastor. And as much as I love worship and preaching, I probably won't miss FIVE weekend worship services, at least for awhile. (This past Sunday was one of those "Aren't you glad you're retiring!" reminders, with weekend worship, a long COVID Protocol Team Zoom meeting after the 10:30AM service, 6:00PM parking lot worship, and a long 7:30PM Finance Committee meeting on Zoom.)

How would I grade myself after 36 years of active ministry? Well, I think I've been an excellent disciple. Disciples follow Jesus, and I can honestly say I've followed Jesus as closely as I possibly can. As this has been a journey, I get lost easily while traveling, and Jesus has been my GPS, so I've stayed close to the directions. There certainly have been many moments when he had to shout out, "RECALCULATING!" to let me know my quirky turns would not separate us. ALSO, disciples are "students" or "learners," and I have been an excellent life-long learner. I have always seen my three diplomas as "licenses to learn," and not union cards or membership certificates. And this will NOT desist in the "Post-Career Exploration" era. As to how effective I was in ministry? I don't know. Only the people I have served could grade that one, and I'm happy to leave it with them. As with any "politician"--and yes, pastors ARE politicians, of a sort--there are some constituents who are very happy with what you have accomplished, and others who can't wait for the next election. I fully pledged myself to be an itinerant pastor when I took my vows of ordination, and the average length of my pastorates is exactly six years, and I have never turned down an appointment, so I would call that successful. AND it meant that those who didn't particularly enjoy my "style" didn't have to wait too long before the "next election."

As long as we stay healthy, you will see Dara and me at Annual Conference, because I AM a United Methodist pastor, and Dara IS a dedicated United Methodist lay person. And while we will miss the "small town" and "Norman Rockwell-ish" confines of Grove City College, we have always embraced change, especially when it has a lot of reasons for occurring. I pray every day that the Western Pennsylvania Conference of The United Methodist Church--a Conference I have loved and served--will STAY United Methodist! I have to accept those who want to leave, for they are children of God, too, but I DON'T want them to hijack this Annual Conference. Go in peace, if you must, but go ahead and make your own Conference. Don't take away the one I have served faithfully for 36 years! And I am certainly not alone in this sentiment.

Rick Warren wrote, "It's not about you." And yet this particular blog has been all about me. Thanks for indulging my rumination around the "retirement" gig. Now for something completely different...

You may not know that I am, and always have been, a "space program geek." Since I was a small boy, I have read everything I could get my hands on about the space program, and used to have my bedroom walls plastered with American astronaut photos, most of which were signed (and which would probably be worth a fortune, if I still had them). I stayed up all night, on several occasions, to watch live coverage of moon walks on the later Apollo missions. [Once, while on vacation with my family in Ohio, I persuaded my dad to take a detour to Wapakoneta, the tiny town that was home to Neil Armstrong. And this was just two weeks after the Apollo 11 astronauts had returned to earth and were still in isolation. The sleepy little Ohio town was festooned with "Welcome Home Neil" decorations, preparing for his homecoming a week or so later. We stopped for gas at a corner gas station, and the attendant said that everybody in town knew "Neil" and the Armstrongs, saying they just lived up the next street. "Stop in and say 'Hi' to his parents," he said. So we did.] ALL THIS TO SAY that one of my favorite astronauts died this week--Michael Collins. He of the "I'll keep the light on for ya'" end of the historic Apollo 11 mission, or the "forgotten astronaut," as some called him. Brilliant, courageous, patriotic, frank, and humorous, was General Collins. Here's one of the most famous photos he took on the Apollo 11 mission:

He took this historic photo while the lunar module Eagle was approaching Columbia for docking, after the moon landing. I'm sure he never thought about the caption that would one day accompany the photo when it was published: Taken by astronaut Michael Collins, on one side of the camera, and on the other side, every human being who has ever lived. 

It is sad that we are losing these giants, one after another. Soon, there will be no one left who has journeyed to the Moon. That will be a sad day for space geeks like me. Michael Collins was a gem. Go with God, Sir.

I wish I could give you a prize for reading all the way through this, but alas, there are none. I'll pray God extends your life for the minutes it took to ingest these meanderings. May your Spring day be bright (or well-watered), and may the Spirit quicken the remaining hours of it. Shalom, Dear Ones!

What's Next?

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