Brothers and Sisters in Christ, This is a difficult time for you as your long-time pastor has retired after 17 years of faithful service to you and your congregation.
For many of you, Pastor Rich is the only pastor you have ever known. Perhaps he was the one who was there for you when you experienced the death of a loved one. Maybe he was the pastor who officiated at your wedding, or baptized children, or who got you involved in the church. You may even have the privilege of calling him your friend.
When I first moved to Iowa to accept the call to be a head of staff pastor, in a staff meeting I was sharing with the long-time secretary of the church that I didn't understand why I was struggling. I was really excited for the new opportunity to serve but a part of me was holding back. She wisely shared, "It's called grief. You are still grieving leaving your previous congregation." she was so right. After so many years of deep relationships, I was grieving the loss of close friends and people who had opened their lives to me in so many ways. Once I acknowledged this and prayed about it, I was able to fully move into my new role with much more energy and enthusiasm.
A Time of Grief
Many of you are probably still grieving the loss of your pastor. Pastor Rich and his family are still in your hearts. They always will be. For this, give thanks to God. If you have had the kind of pastor and family that stays in your heart, you have been richly blessed. That's not always the case. These first few months are a time of grief and sorrow. It is a time to mourn the loss of a great pastor, leader, and friend, who has touched your lives in so many ways. It is helpful to acknowledge this grief and pay attention to all those confusing feelings. It is only natural to struggle during these first few months of his absence.
When Grief Moves Into Gratitude
On the 7th of June this month, my heart was heavy as I remembered the death of my dear mother in 1985. It was a long time ago but some days it seems just like yesterday. She was way too young, only 59, still full of life and love. We had two little children, her first grandchildren. She was so looking forward to being grandma. But cancer took her from us.
That was a long time ago. Yet in many ways it was just like yesterday. I still grieve her death. But through the years I have learned to live with the loss. Sometimes there are still those twinges, those moments, but grief has now mostly moved into gratitude. I was blessed by a mother who loved, who sang us to sleep at night, who wrote poetry, who loved to teach children, who loved being a missionary and a mother. Now when I grieve I am also filled with thanksgiving and gratitude for being blessed by the time she was in my life.
Is It Time to Move On?
We all grieve differently. Grief is so deeply personal. Loss hits our lives in so many different ways. Some want to stay there in their grief. some are ready to move on. Some will never be ready. Yet Christ has called us to live in a community, a congregation. The Holy Spirit is calling us to continue to live together, to dare to live as Christians, to follow Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. So let's take time these summer months to grieve. And when you're ready, let's move on.
Until then, let's stay committed to each other, to be the church, to worship, to hear the Word proclaimed and receive Lord's Supper. We'll know when the time is right.
Until then, I'm here as your pastor with doors open and heart ready to serve.