This past weekend marked a milestone in the life of our church: our founding pastor Dave Burns’ farewell. After 32 years of teaching and leading this particular body of believers, he is moving into a well-earned retirement–and most likely, some other ministry, unknown as of yet, into which God will call him.
Friday night was the celebration banquet. Video presentations were scattered throughout the evening, including a Kids Say the Darndest Things-style interview, asking youngsters from the congregation what they thought about the life of a pastor. “When should a pastor retire?” was one of the tougher questions. One child screwed up her face and guessed, “A hundred?” (Sorry, Dave. Looks like you’ve got a few years to go yet.)
The weekend services were filled with favorite worship songs chosen by the pastor for the special memories each evoked, the music climaxing with a glorious rendition of the Hallelujah Chorus. Donna, Dave’s wife, spoke tearfully and eloquently of her experiences (thank you, Donna!). Dave, ever the preacher, followed with his own encouraging comments based on the story of Gideon, and thanked the congregation for the opportunity to serve before hurrying off the platform.
Many people, on stage and off, were in tears, including myself, my wife, and even my mother, who has much less of a connection to the congregation than we. Our new pastor, Aaron, who officially begins his responsibilities next week, closed the service with some well-chosen words of prayer. Then the congregation trudged out, with many snuffling into their Kleenexes.
Overall, the transition has been poignant but peaceful. Some have suggested that we should document how we pulled it off, so that other churches might be able to replicate that success. There may be something to that; there are certainly wise principles that any church in transition would do well to heed.
But even the best and most detailed procedure manual won’t necessarily help the congregation in which long-simmering, latent conflicts are waiting for just the right excuse to boil over. So while I think there are things that we have done well in the past year to smooth the transition, I attribute the lion’s share of the credit to three decades of solid, courageous, Holy Spirit-directed leadership.
And, of course, incredibly immaculate hair.
Change can be difficult, even when it’s normal and we can see it coming from a distance. I’ve blogged a lot about life transitions in recent months, and it’s not all bad. In fact, this past weekend also marked another momentous milestone in my own life–it was the first time I’ve ever been in a restaurant and ordered something off the so-called “senior menu.” For the record, I’m only 55, but in that restaurant, I qualify.
“I won’t card you,” the waitress said, trying to be helpful.
“No,” I replied, thinking she wasn’t getting it, “please do.” She got it.
The AARP has been after me for five years now, trying to get me to join. I haven’t done it yet, and don’t know if I will. But give me an opportunity to order something I actually want to eat, at a discount? Done. These are the things about getting older that I can easily embrace. And there are others that…well, not so much.
And so too as we turn the page to the next chapter in the life of our congregation. It would be naive to think that there won’t be some drama in the coming months, or perhaps the occasional plot twist. But what matters is to get the story right. It’s not about how what happens in the church fits into my personal narrative, making my life better or worse. It’s not about how one pastor strove diligently against the odds to create a thriving and resilient organization. It’s not about how a new pastor stepped into that role and either continued or challenged that legacy.
It’s about God, and how he has used and will continue to use this small band of people, living in this place and this time, to do his work in the world. Our congregational history must be rooted in his-story to be anything more than just dust in the wind.
May God grant us the eyes to see and the ears to hear as we move forward into God’s future together.