The word is out but tomorrow is yet one more ‘first-last’. After sixteen years of standing in front of the congregation offering reassurance and embodying stability, tomorrow morning I will be standing in front speaking of my announced departure.
Retirement is a the most appropriate word for the context but if falls short to describe what this shift means both for me and for the community. Although I am making a professional shift, retiring from this profession while opening myself to what comes next, this shift is about more than a job, more even than a profession, more than a way of life. It is about community, a primary source of community in my life for sixteen years. For better and worse, retirement from the profession and/or resignation from the job requires a relinquishment of the community. A severing of the ties. There is little (no) wiggle room in the denominational rules about this because it is hard for a church community to bond with a new pastor if the old one is hanging around in the wings.
This is the hardest part. This is the part that I won’t speak tomorrow, this pending loss. It won’t be realized until later and there seems no use to visit this pain now. But I know it and hold it. Perhaps I’ve known it for a while, perhaps it is why I have felt myself for many months, even years, gently pulling back. I have been crabby for months now, feeling every slight and struggle in technicolor; perhaps this too has been a symptom that I am making ready for this pending shift. My dear one says that the loss will be mammoth, I think she speaks the truth. Yet I have rarely in my life had such clarity as I do about the need to make this move, so I make ready for the grief that already surrounds this shift.
Tomorrow I will not share these complicated strands. Tomorrow I will simply say:
“For sixteen years, I have been privileged to serve this incredible community that we now know as Peace United Church of Christ. I am grateful for the trust and care that you have shared and honored by the ministry we have shared. I have come to realize that it is time in my life to close this professional chapter and I have shared with our Governing Body my intention to retire from professional ministry and Peace UCC at the end of this program year (in May). This morning I’d like to introduce you to our leaders. These two will be playing primary roles in planning our transition and we are truly blessed to have these leaders. I’ll let them share a bit more of the process.” (turn over microphone)
Tomorrow I will model speaking my truth in the simplest, kindest fashion while practicing the new work of turning over the leadership to those who stand in wait. I will speak of gratitude and hold quiet the waves of grief that I feel lapping at the shore. There will be many days ahead to give voice to this companion truth.