You may have heard that I’m retiring.
Actually, I know it sounds funny to some people, but I believe you’ve been telling me to do so. My prayer life, even in it’s worst days, is pretty good. There has never been a time, no matter how dark or troubled, when I have not felt you with me, and I know you’ve never turned me away because of my mistakes. You weren’t happy, but you didn’t turn me out. Thank you.
When I was a child I wanted to be a priest just like my childhood priest, Fr. Lincoln Whelan (a good Irish priest). I felt that was what you were calling me to, even before I understood what a “call” from you was. I just knew I was supposed to be a priest. Then came girls, and suddenly priesthood and celibacy didn’t sound too appealing. I turned to my most basic love, carpentry, and decided I’d grow up devoted to my love of wood.
Then the “old people” in my Congregational church (who were likely 45 at the time) pushed me to join them on a weekend prayer retreat. BOOORRRINGGG! I went, begrudgingly, to the weekend: forsaking my softball, beer, and hot-rodding around to be with (again) “old people”. But it was during that quiet weekend of prayer that I felt your call again, luring me into the ministry. It was unmistakable. It was like someone was sitting in the room talking directly to me, and I had even taken my meds that morning.
That was on a Saturday. On Sunday morning we were together with the retreat leader as she asked us what we learned in our prayers. It was my time to speak and I was completely embarrassed to say that I felt you were calling me to become a minister. To my great shock, all the adults said, “We knew it all along.”
I learned what your voice sounded like. It’s not a loud clang of a cymbal or a noisy gong banging in my head: it’s a still, silent voice welling up from somewhere deep inside my soul. It’s inescapable, though I’ve tried to escape it at times. It’s just a persistent nudging and stirring within me that seems to point at something or say a name over and over until I finally acknowledge it.
I have felt your call to each of the churches I’ve served over the past 39 years. Perhaps it’s because I have listened so intently to your call to each church that they have been successful: you needed me there, and I needed to learn something while I was there. I also felt your call when it was time for me to leave a church: which is a far more difficult thing to discern. Why would I leave a church when things are going so well? It defies logic and my emotion, but when I hear your call I can run for a while, try to hide from it, or deny it…but it’s still there stirring within my soul until I acknowledge you and listen to what you’re telling me.
That’s what I’m feeling as I wrestled with you about the decision to retire from active church ministry. I’ve got no interest in serving another church, but I know I’ll have to listen if you call me to that place. Instead, I have a sense that after 16 1/2 incredible years here at the Old Stone Church you have someone else in mind to lead the church into new areas of life and ministry.
People think I’m retiring because Carm is pressuring me since she retired. Yes, she’d like me to retire, but she knows how passionate I am about serving this congregation. My sense of your voice speaking to me is simply that in the 182-year history of this congregation you have someone else in mind to help it grow even more than I could. I’m not necessarily happy about it, but I am at peace with listening to you, as I have always been. You called me here, and you are now calling me away.
November 1st will come quickly. Just think, I only have about 40 sermons to give before then. That’s 40 opportunities to finally find a good one on the internet!
I don’t necessarily like change. I tell my kids I’m a “preacher of habit”. I’m pretty predictable. But I know that in all things you are God and I am simply expected to listen for your still, silent voice moving in and around me. Thank you for taking the time to listen. I love you.