Tuesday, October 18, 2016


NOTE: Here is my letter of intent to retire that I shared with my Council last night and my congregation today. 

October 2016

Dear Friends and Colleagues in Ministry at First Church:

During my sabbatical in Montreal, I began to sense that just as I had once been called “in” to full time pastoral ministry in the summer of 1968, I was probably now being called “out” of this ministry, too. As in all matters of discernment, this is not something I have rushed into. Indeed, over the past fifteen months I have been actively engaged in prayer, study, quiet reflection, professional counsel, family questioning, financial planning and a series of practical experiments concerning what my heart is communicating to my head. In a word, I have been listening deeply to how best to serve God, care for my soul, and share love with those dearest to me. As a result, I am submitting my notice of retirement as Settled Minister of First Church, Pittsfield effective February 1, 2017.

Just as the sacred rhythm of God’s grace teaches the world that there is “a time for every purpose under heaven,” so, too for me: “there is a time to be born and a time to die, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing.” (Ecclesiastes 3) Everything within me knows that this is my season for leave-taking from full time ministry. Further, given the congregation’s need to move towards part-time ministry, now is the time for me to act. 

+  I am not departing because I have found a better job or more money. Nor am I in conflict with the direction or leadership of our congregation. Dianne and I are simply finished with this phase of ministry; our days of working full time in a local church are over. So just as I have often challenged you in Sunday worship to step out into life with faith, trusting that God is not done with us yet, now is yet another time for us to do so, too. 

+  In order to negotiate a new transitional, part-time position with First Church that will take effect in the New Year, my current call agreement must come to a close. Honoring the protocol of our tradition, this requires a three month notification. Additionally, I must give the Pension Boards of the United Church of Christ three months to prepare my annuity package upon retirement. 

+  And, as some of you know, I also ache to return to Canada. Upon completion of my part-time ministry at First Church (whenever that should come to closure) it is my goal to volunteer with Jean Vanier’s L’Arche Community in either Ottawa or Montreal as part of their ministry to adults with intellectual challenges. Dianne has been eager to respond to the humanitarian crisis of Syrian and North African immigrants fleeing oppression. She will have completed her CELTA certification in English Language Training in May 2017 and hopes to assist refugees in Canada with their transition. I look forward to going deeper into my writing concerning a spirituality of tenderness. And, without qualification, we are going to spend lots of time with our beloved daughters, sons-in-law and grandson.

My retirement comes with full support for Lauryn Levesque’s commitment to help First Church become a vibrant small congregation for the 21 century. I endorse our Church Council’s vow to preserve our unique contemporary ministries while honoring the historic legacy of our congregation in the wider community. And l celebrate the insights and recommendations the Ad Hoc Planning Team led by Jon Grenoble has crafted for our future. I pray you will support them faithfully, too.

There are no good times for a pastor to leave a beloved congregation. Still, I know that this is the right time for me to rest in God’s grace. The Bard of Vermont, one of my favorite writers, Frederick Buechner, put it best when he wrote: Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than the excitement and gladness, touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments – and all life itself is grace.

As I look back upon our ten years together I give thanks to God for our commitment in becoming an Open and Affirming congregation: when First Church took this stand, it spoke volumes to the wider community about God’s love for all of creation. It also put us on notice as allies for all who have experienced religious persecution. 

+  I have been personally blessed by the creativity of our music and worship endeavors over the past five years. I would rank Missa Gaia and Love Supreme as highlights of our liturgical and artistic collaborations. Creating and sharing new music in the service of solidarity with the people of Pittsfield – as well as in public worship – has been holy ground for me. Thus, I owe a debt of gratitude to the various incarnations of Between the Banks with a special love for: Jenna O’Brien, Brian Staubach, Sue Noyes, Eva Perri, Jon Grenoble, Dave McDermott, Elizabeth McCarty, and Dianne De Mott. My artistic/spiritual collaborations with Jon Haddad, Andy and Sue Kelly, Rebecca Maaia, Charlie Tokarz, Grahm Sturz and Linda Worster have been equally sublime. 

+  Being connected with the young people of First Church – musicians and confirmands (and their wonderful families) – has been another source of renewal, hope and deep satisfaction. I am particularly grateful for young musicians like Ethan Wesley, Olivia Kinne, Emory Korte, Catherine and Alida Perri for their willingness and verve in making a joyful and beautiful song for the Lord.

+  Working with five Moderators, Council members and Worship Teams under the guidance of
John Galt, Susan Noyes, Dana Noble, David Noyes and Lauryn Levesque has been enriching. And bringing to fruition the ordination into Christian Ministry of Rebecca Floyd, Robert Hyde and now Elizabeth McCarty has been a unique and sobering privilege for me.

I would be remiss in affection and untrue to my heart if I did not acknowledge the unique, creative and compassionate synergy that became the core of my collaboration with my First Church colleagues: David Grusendorf, Becky Jankowski and Carlton Maaia II. Not every staff loves one another nor works well together for the glory of God – but this crew did – and we have all been the more blessed because of it. Joyfully I have grown closer to many of you as we practiced loving God in community, worship and mission. I have disappointed and even failed some, I know, and rely upon God’s grace as we all move into a new era.

This moment in the life of North American Christian congregations is complex: our culture and our religious habits have changed profoundly. For good and ill, there are more “spiritual but not religious” citizens in our region than ever before. Our personal and public obligations have grown more multi-faceted – and all too harried. Our commitment to the common good has been diminished. So many good people are both anxious and angry about the future. And a growing minority of neighbors prefer a coarse and crude politics celebrating cynicism rather than the pursuit of happiness and social responsibility for all. More than at any other time in my thirty-five years of ordained ministry, I sense a need to nourish a spirituality of tenderness in writing, music-making and community building and I yearn to use my retirement for just such activities.

So thank you for your love and your support. After I take my leave, and conclude whatever part-time service we negotiate, I will uphold the Code of Ethics for Retired Clergy and rigorously maintain clear and respectful personal boundaries like my predecessors. Until that time, however, I pray only blessings and a deepening of God’s guidance for you in the exciting and challenging days ahead.

Grace and peace always,
The Reverend Dr. James Lumsden

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