Pastor’s Corner (9/24/2020)
I have to confess to my brothers and sisters that I have “retirement envy.” As I listen to a couple of my ministry colleagues who are in the process of retiring, I feel a bit jealous. It’s not that I want to leave FCC, but I think it is an expression of my “COVID weariness.” As the pandemic goes on past the 6 month mark, I grow weary of trying to adapt to all the changes swirling around us. In my nearly 35 years of ministry, I have seen a lot of change. There have been many advances that have empowered my various forms of ministry. The advent of new technologies has made it possible for me to serve as a visually impaired person. I used to have to hand copy my worship material in felt tip pen; prayers, scriptures and sermons. Now I have the wonderful Surface Pro provided by the congregation that makes leading worship possible for me. Many of the changes over the past few decades have been amazing!
But many of the changes have been more challenging. As we move into the 21st century, we have had to ask a lot of questions about the place of the Church in our lives and in our culture. Many of the questions asked by the churches in Europe two decades ago are our questions now. What is the Church called to be in these times? What is our purpose? Are we still relevant in the lives of people today? Sadly, the onset of COVID-19 has only accelerated the need to ask and answer these questions.
As I move into my early 60’s I find myself reflecting on retirement. In my ever-present need to plan, I have begun pondering what retirement might look like for me. I am hoping to serve this congregation for at least 5 more years, but I know this time will go quickly and I want to be prepared. My driving concerns are financial, what will be my financial resources and when will be the best time to maximize them? As I ponder these things I’m invited to ponder other things as well.
With this in mind, I began an online course with the Board of Pensions called “Thrive.” As you might imagine, I have also been doing some reading. I began a book called The Gift of Years: Growing Older Gracefully by Joan Chittister. She begins her book with the topic of “Regret” and then moves into a chapter entitled “Meaning.” She invites the reader to consider things that I think are relevant for the Church today, as well. As we move through these days of Pandemic and Protest, how do we define meaning for ourselves and for the Church? So often we define ourselves by what we do. For those of us still working, we often find meaning in our jobs and vocations. As a congregation, we often find meaning in what we do: worship, outreach, caring for others, learning, and growing. Perhaps the challenges we face today invite us to go deeper, to ponder meaning for ourselves and for our congregations. Chittister invites us to consider, “We urgently need people who contemplate on the meaning of life rather than simply the speed, the mechanization, the computerization of it.” Isn’t that really the core purpose of the church? She goes on ask “…what are we when we pass from doing to being?”
For Chittister, retirement “…is a time of coming home to the self. I find myself stripped of all the accessories of life now. I am face-to-face with myself. And the fear is that there isn’t one.” Although the Church is not retiring, COVID has given us some space and time to consider these deeper questions. We have been stripped of many of the things and activities that have traditionally defined us, as individuals and as a congregation. We have an opportunity to ask these deeper questions. We have the opportunity to intentionally shape our future. Her invitation to those considering retirement can also be seen as an invitation to the Church.
She draws this chapter on “Meaning” to a close by saying:
The world has been upside down for so long. It is almost impossible to believe anymore that the meaning of life is not about doing. The notion that it is about being-being caring, being interested, being honest, being truthful, being available, being spiritual, being involved with the important things of life, of living-is so rare, so unspoken of, as to be obtuse. We don’t even know what meaning means anymore. But one thing is sure: to be meaningful to the world around us means that we need to provide something more than numbers. It means that we are obliged to offer important ideas, sacred reflection, a serious review of options, and the suggestion of better ideas than the ones the world is running on now.
In whatever stage of life we find ourselves, may we have the courage to ponder these challenging questions. These times are unprecedented and difficult, but we have an opportunity to examine the meaning of our lives as individuals and as a faith community.
In peace and love,