Tuesday, December 12, 2017

I must decrease so that He might increase...

The snow is coming down vigorously again today. It started all shimmering and dry but is now big and wet. It will likely yield another two inches to the existing four. Winter has clearly arrived in the Berkshires. 

Yesterday my time was given mostly to Bible study and writing for Advent III. The texts are a strange brew of Johanine insights about John the Baptist as witness mixed with Mary's maginificat. Along the way I learned that St. John's gospel never refers to Yohanan (Hebrew for "Yah is gracious") as the Baptizer, but always as the witness (martyria) who points us towards Jesus. "I must decrease," he humbly tells us early in the story with a confessional tone, "so that He might increase."

There was my last Church Council meeting last night, too as well as work on this Saturday's memorial service. Today has been meetings, administration, pastoral follow up and all those little, rarely seen but essential bulletin and technical details that clergy and secretaries do to get the congregation ready for Christmas.  Our secretary is a saint - not perfect - but thorough, committed, compassionate, funny and smart. We have worked together for over nine years - and it will be sad when we have to finally say good-bye. As allies, we have helped transform the administrative culture of our community from old school hierarchical to more of a 21st century techno-aware transparency. There are those who have come along after the battles who are understandably opaque about the intensity of those former days. That is how it should be and I give thanks to God that we've helped make the institutional culture a little more heart-oriented and modestly more user-friendly for them. Still, there are times when my secretary and I smile like old vets hoisting a beer at the VFW and say: "If they'd only ask, we could save them a lot of headaches."


Such is the cost and joy of aging - and retiring, right? Still those words from St. John the Baptist re: decreasing and increasing remain pregnant with meaning for me in these closing days of ministry. I know less and less about the day to day work of our congregation. I let go of more and more into the hands of... trust? Mostly with a bit of fear and trembling, too. And, as I wrote to the congregation earlier in my weekly email:

In my transition out of ministry and your transition into an interim ministry, you must rely upon a new charism to lead you into deeper sharing and belonging. St. Paul taught the early church how to do this in I Corinthians 1: "Consider your call... God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world" to help everyone find their place with the Body of Christ. We are First Church are no longer powerful, or strong or even wise in the ways of the world. We are small. Little and sometimes frail. This is our blessing. It helps us go deeper in caring for one another. My prayer is that First Church will honor being little so that Christ's love will guide you through this time of uncertain transition. With God at your core, blessings will abound.

And for our mutual well-being there are some leave-taking protocols we will share together over the next month. There will be an "Exit Interview" meeting for myself and Council on Monday, January 8, 2018. There will be a retirement luncheon on Saturday, January 13th. And a leave-taking liturgy at the close of worship on Sunday, January 28. After my season of service at First Church is complete, my public and pastoral relationships with you will come to a close. Yes, I will continue to love and pray for many at First Church. But I will not be available for baptisms, weddings or funerals. Further, it is recommended that we break email, social media contact and casual gatherings for one full year, too. I am committed to honoring the ethical boundaries of my vocation and know that you will, too. This has been summarized by the United Church of Christ in the following language:
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"Upon my retirement I will not interfere or intrude upon the ministry of

my successor. I will not perform pastoral services within this parish or for a member of the congregation without the consent of the new pastor. I will deal honorably with the record of both my predecessor and successor."

I MUST decrease so that God's new blessing might increase within and among them. I hold this close even as I prepare to head to Ottawa next week.




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a spirituality of l'arche - part five

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