Today I preached my last sermon. Or in at least the first last. This was the final Sunday before a long vacation, after which it is hoped that I will be able to return for a three month swan song. But very little has unfolded as expected and I am doubtful about the prospect of returning.
It feels odd to be ushered out from a job at which I excelled, to feel shunned in a place I was once the leader. But what was just a few months ago an uncomfortable rockiness has, since my announced retirement plan, become open hostility and blatant disrespect. Though I may have hoped that a pending retirement would have diffused the dissent, conversely it has given the grumblies a center stage. While I may have had visions of love fests, the truth is that there is a combination of boycott and armchair quarterbacking. Certainly if an exit presents itself, I would jump. And as I awoke from my Sunday afternoon nap today, my first thought was, “why didn’t I turn in my keys?”.
So today I preached my goodbye. I took note of who was and wasn’t present, aware that many of the folks with whom I imagine I need closure were notably missing. Perhaps it is inconsequential for we can only bid a proper farewell to those who are present in the moment. And I did my best to give a final word of encouragement for the important ministry that has been ours. In fact I felt inspired as I was writing and even more as I was sharing. And in closing I said, “I am tired. I am crabby.” Yes, I am. “And I am very proud,” which is also true.
But here is a painful irony. The community that I worked so hard to create ultimately was not community for me. I realized that a few years ago, and when it become a visible truth I could feel myself begin to withdraw. I need for myself and my family the kind of community that our church offered to its members – imperfect but open. I have some resentment, a fair amount I realize, that by definition this same embrace cannot be offered to the pastor or staff. We who work so hard, who sacrifice so much, are always held just outside the embrace. Sometimes we are held above the embrace, on a pedestal receiving honor; other times beneath but most often simply alongside. Sometimes we feel at one with and are tempted to believe that we are one among many, but such is an illusion. And when our professional work is complete, our communal connections will also be closed. It is a painful truth, but undeniable.
Whether it is my first last or truly my final sermon is yet unknown, but certain is the process of grieving which is a loopy cycle of intense emotions. To have successfully navigated this one day, I am grateful. For the assurance that the breath within will carry me beyond, I am grateful. For a place to process thoughts and share the journey, I am grateful. For all the rest, I will try to withhold judgment.