When I prepared for a first pastorate, my Associate Conference Minister gave me one instruction: “Just don’t leave.” So, in thirty-eight years of ordained ministry, I have left exactly twice. Now, I am preparing for a third farewell.
On September 1st, I will begin serving as the Transitional Conference Minister for the Maine Conference of the United Church of Christ. Along with warm clothes and the usual tonnage of an old preacher’s books, I will carry with me a heart full of gratitude and love for each of you. I will carry prayer journals full of your names. I will carry a head full of stories and memories and of all that I have learned from you.
A lot of ways to say good-bye in Norwegian include “thank you”. Thank you, dear saints of the Iowa, Nebraska, and South Dakota Conferences. Thank you for all you have taught me. Thank you for your steadfast prayers. Thank you for hundreds of sacred stories. Thank you for the profound honor of weeping alongside you and rejoicing alongside you and stretching alongside you.
In the past almost twelve years of Conference ministry, it has been my honor and delight to serve alongside amazing servants of God. In a just world, I would owe our three Conferences huge tuition checks for all that my colleagues have taught me. Thank you, dear team members, for these years of working hard and wondering widely and wrestling at all hours with tangled questions (and the occasional angel). Thank you for the precious balm of shared laughter and shared tears. I love you and I thank God for each of you.
A frequent instruction in our sacred texts is: Do not be afraid. I could wish that once an angel would say, “Wow. You must be scared out of your mind. I don’t blame you! And, by the way, God’s near.” Or, maybe, “Of course you’re afraid! And do keep going anyway, please.” We know that even bright changes are scary, as quite a few lovers have taught me on their wedding days.
As my ministry with you ends, we will be mindful and intentional in honoring the professional boundaries of ministry. Harry Levinson wisely taught, “All change is loss, and all loss must be mourned.” I am both sad alongside you in farewells and joyful alongside the saints of the Maine Conference in hellos. Our connections will end in August and another Associate Conference Minister will come to begin a fruitful new season of ministry among you. Thank you for committing alongside me to honor the truth of our farewells and for graciously welcoming the next member of the TCM ministerial staff.
When my service in Maine is complete, I look forward to returning to Iowa for a retirement season of prayer and worship, of reading and writing, of tap dancing and skiing, of being a better friend to my shiny red accordion, … and of as little driving as possible.
In Christ’s love,