Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | January 7, 2018

2018.01.07 “Milestones: Beginnings and Endings” – Mark 1: 9 – 11

Central United Methodist Church
Milestones: Beginnings and Endings
Pastor David L. Haley
Baptism of the Lord
Mark 1:  9 – 11
January 7th, 2018

OXYGEN VOLUME 13

 “In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” – (Mark 1: 9 – 11, NRSV)

 

There are milestones in life, and today is one of them, for Jesus and for us.

Today, in Mark’s Gospel, we leave the lights of Christmas behind and head out to the wilderness where John the Baptist is preaching. Suddenly, out of nowhere – this is literally the first thing that happens in Mark’s Gospel – Jesus appears to be baptized by John, to begin his brief but extraordinary three-year ministry which would change the world, and all of us.

But today is also a milestone for us, for me as your pastor and for us as a congregation. While today, in the Gospel, Jesus begins his ministry; today, on the first Sunday of 2018, I am announcing the end of mine. I have requested of our Bishop, Bishop Sally Dyck, appointment to retirement, effective July 1, with 44 years of service, after 11 years as your pastor. For some of you, this is likely not a surprise; for others, it is.

I apologize for not breaking the news personally, but there is a protocol for such things, and – after all – in a congregation – the news that the pastor is leaving is a big secret to bear, with implications for everyone. I first told Cindy Barron, our Lay Leader, in September. Then Ferdinand, as head of Staff-Parish. And – due to its financial implications – Diane Wolff-Klammer, our Chair of Finance. In October, I told the Staff-Parish Committee. In November, I sent my formal letter of request to the Bishop, and she has responded affirmatively. I set today, January 7th, as the time to announce it to you, the congregation, so now the word is out.

I am experienced and wise enough to know, that at this news, most will be sad, some will be mad, and others may be filled with fear, as to what will happen next. And – yes – others will be glad (That guy is FINALLY leaving!). As for me, I’m not at all mad, maybe only a little fearful, but I am both sad and glad. I have always liked the story of the gathering of clergy where a 90 year-old veteran pastor stood up to retire, and everyone leaned forward to hear his final words of wisdom. He leaned forward and said, “I’m just glad it’s over.”

Of course, it’s not over. Although today I officially become a lame duck, we have six more months together. Though I will remain your pastor through midnight on June 30th, I have tentatively set as the date for my last sermon, Pentecost Sunday, May 20th. If the Staff-Parish Committee and I can work out the arrangements, our goal – if we can work it out – is to arrange for an interim preacher for the month of June, to ease the transition for my successor, and allow me to devote the month of June to moving and preparing the parsonage for the next pastor. Although we do have a house to move to in Park Ridge, believe me, it will take every minute from now until June, and the thought of moving absolutely terrifies me.

During this final 6 months, my goals are three. First, to “finish strong, and end well,” as one study of clergy retirement called it, and not limp across the finish line as some pastors at this stage of their lives do. I do not say that disparagingly, I have seen it happen to some of my most loved and respected mentors and colleagues, due to overwhelming issues of grief, loss of purpose, and depression at the end of one career. If you think about it, when pastors move or retire, we lose everything: our house, our job, our church congregation, our largest circle of friends. So I would appreciate your prayers during this time of transition. During this time, I intend to be the best pastor I can be, to preach the best sermons I can preach, maybe with even greater candor.

My second goal during this time is to allow us – both me and you – to grieve and rejoice in our pastoral relationship as it comes to an end. There will be tears, on both sides, there is no way around it. As I progress through this year of “lasts,” I’ve already starting crying through my sermon preparation. Some of those “lasts” are sad (such as my last Christmas); some of them are glad (such as my last Charge Conference – Woohoo!). But also tears as we grieve the end of our pastoral relationship. After June 30th, while I can be a friend, I can no longer be your pastor, and therefore not able to officiate at baptisms, weddings, or funerals. So, if any of you were hoping I would do any of those – including your funeral – you got 5 months, 3 weeks, 2 days, . . .

My third goal is to prepare the way for my successor, your next pastor, whoever he or she may be. How they will be selected is like this: In the United Methodist Church, a pastor is appointed by the Bishop, not called by the congregation, as in other traditions. Based upon their knowledge, the information we have submitted, and interviews with our Staff-Parish Committee, Bishop Dyck and her cabinet (which includes all the District Superintendents and Conference Program staff), will identify candidates whose gifts and graces match the needs of Central. In addition, maybe as soon as tomorrow, Central will be listed as a “Clear Open,” meaning any clergy interested in serving Central can submit their name for consideration (some think it will be several). From those, the Bishop and Cabinet will come up with a short list, and finally name a top candidate (ultimately, the Bishop’s decision), whom they will bring to the Staff-Parish Committee for an interview, just as they did me in May of 2007. While the final appointment is at the discretion of the Bishop, once there is consensus, a new pastor will be named. Rev. Zaki thinks this could be as soon as February or March, which I why I wanted to announce today. BTW, I did emphasize that in the last 41 years, Central has had only 3 pastors: Harry Connor, Bob Burkhart, and me. I don’t know for sure, but this might be a conference record.

I also want to be clear about this: your next Pastor will be appointed by the Bishop, in consultation with Staff-Parish; I have absolutely no say in it whatever, nor do I want to. First, because someone you might think will be great, may turn out to be not-so-great, and someone you might think “not-so-great” might turn out to be the best pastor this congregation has ever had. Secondly, I assure you no pastor in their right mind EVER wants their successor to fail, but to succeed, to do better not worse than us. I will work with them in every way to facilitate the transition, as Bob Burkhart did for me.

What I can definitely tell you is that whoever it is, they will be different than me, and that is a good thing. One of the good things about our system is that – over time – congregations experience pastors with different personalities, gifts and graces, which also calls forth different gifts and graces from congregations. Whoever follows me will be better at some things, worst in others. In the diverse knowledge and skills required in ministry, no single human being – not even Jesus or St. Paul – can be a master of all. After all, they killed both of them. If possible, I would like to retire peacefully before that happens. I know, I got 5 months, 3 weeks, 2 days, . . .

So, there it is, you know what I know. In light of this, it struck me as well-timed and appropriate, when I got an invitation several months ago to be the preacher last Sunday at the 50th anniversary of Dexter-Hardin United Methodist Church, the little church I grew up in KY.

As you might surmise from the hyphen, it was the merger of two congregations who came together; the church building even straddles the county line between Marshall and Calloway County. Now it’s a circuit of 3 churches; every Sunday morning, the pastor preaches three times in three different churches. Last Sunday they all came together, so instead of the usual 30 or so in attendance, there were 120. Afterwards, I was surprised to learn that not a few were concealed carry, maybe even the pastor. After all, it is KY! I was sadly unarmed . . .

The saddest part, of course, was that so many dear to us were missing, whom we acknowledged. Former Sunday School, grade school, and high school teachers, including the agriculture teacher, a WWII vet who landed at Utah Beach on D-Day. My former Scoutmaster, who died two years ago. My grandparents, and my father, who died 6 years ago. My 87 year-old mother was there, and it was her job to introduce me. She stood up by her pew, and said, “Now, without further adieu, my favorite son and my favorite preacher,” and sat down, as I jumped to get to the pulpit. “Thank you, Mom, for that extended introduction!”

Also there – among others – was my first crush, who I went to school with from kindergarten through high school. And – sitting on the second row – the pastor I told you about a few weeks ago when I shared my call to ministry, the Rev. Tommy Bullock. I had been told he would be there, so I spoke directly to him:

“Thanks a lot, Pastor Tommy Bullock, for inviting me into ordained ministry. Believe it or not, I still remember standing back there at the kitchen sink, washing dishes, when you asked me, “Have I ever thought about the ministry?” At that time, my answer was “No,” because I wanted to be a baseball player or jet pilot; I thought being a pastor would be boring. Little did I know what an adventure it would be: the places I would go, the people I would meet, the things I would do. I am grateful.”

I am indeed so grateful. You see, while the days and weeks and months and years of ministry fly past – as 11 years have now flown past – so much of it is intangible and immeasurable. As the old joke goes, “Six days invisible, one day incomprehensible.” After 45+ years, 5 churches, 11 years as your pastor, after all the baptisms, confirmands, weddings, funerals, and sermons, may the seeds which have been planted continue to blossom and flourish, as those seeds Pastor Bullock planted in me.

Though not a beginning as Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan was a beginning, but an ending, may the next six months be fulfilling for all of us, as together we finish strong and end well.

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