Friday, November 17, 2017

living into the serenity prayer AND the prayer of st. francis...

This will be complicated to write - but important.  It has to do with my discernment to retire from one form of ministry so that I might have the energy and grace to do another.  A few wise colleagues who have entered this world of clergy retirement told me that I would experience both a season of grief during my waning months at church; and, then another encounter with sorrow after departing. I knew that they were right. I trusted their hard won wisdom. And I had no idea how this would manifest itself.  For while grieving is normative to this moment in ministry, it is also unique unto each minister.

What I have discovered thus far is a profound sadness in relationship to missed opportunities. Not sins or mischief, mind you, but times when we were unable to seize the moment. Some were inevitable, others of my own making, and a few stem from institutional stagnation and/or fear. None of this was born of malice. 
There has been enough shared gaffes, victories, times of courage as well as blunders over 10+ years to document that we have lived fully into our love, faith and broken humanity. "Now we see as through a glass darkly," St. Paul reminds us, "only later shall we see face to face." 

So my mourning does not arise from resentment. Rather, it stems from regret. Like a parent or lover sorting through a box of old photographs, I have found as I look backwards on our time in Pittsfield - as well as in each of the four congregations I have served -  that hindsight affords the vision to see where better choices could have been made personally and corporately - and were not. So while our past can never be remade, owning it without blame or sentimentality seems prudent during these days of closure. Dr. King once said that "human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable. Every step toward justice requires sacrifice, struggle and suffering; the tireless exertion and passionate concern of dedicated individuals."  

When I applied a fearless moral inventory to my ministry, as is essential to all 12 Step healing, I had to honestly confess that there were times when I was unable to hit the mark and circumstances beyond my control. This is the time-tested path to acceptance, serenity, and the wisdom to know what is mine and what is beyond my power to control. Most of this fall has been given over to this moral inventory - and it has been an emotional roller coaster. A few days ago, however, I realized that this part of the journey had come to an end. Rather than bouncing around with inner turmoil, I felt peace. I have shared a deep love with this congregation - and each of my four charges - in our quest to serve Jesus.  Here in Pittsfield we survived the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression of the 30's. We renewed and revitalized public worship to incorporate 21st concerns  even as we honored ancient spiritual disciplines. We compassionately cared for our community in this small part of the Berkshires. And we acted with courage in challenging the fear and hatred of the current national regime. So, yes there are very real regrets - and there is acceptance - and lots of love.

I did not know how my grieving in community would manifest itself. I just knew that it would come - and then go. And it has. Sometimes congregations don't know how to manage their discomfort when their pastor grieves. It often makes us uncomfortable and uncertain. Wise hearts know from their own experience that this comes and then goes. I know that there will be more mourning when I leave, but now is a time to rejoice in the love that we share. For me, the past year has been a walk through the wisdom of Reinhold Niebuhr's Serenity Prayer:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;  

and wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time;
accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it;
trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His Will;
that I may be reasonably happy in this life 
and supremely happy with Him forever in the next.  Amen.

Now it is time for the Prayer of St. Francis...

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