Sunday, June 10, 2012

A Pastor and Spouse Say Farewell

Today is our last Sunday with the Patapsco–Lodge Forest Cooperative Parish.  It is bittersweet as on one hand we look forward to the adventure ahead in discovering a new people (Good Shepherd UMC) and new place (Waldorf, MD) but on the other, it is difficult to say goodbye to those we have served and loved.

I’ve been part of this community since we got married in 2003—even a bit before that. I probably never will forget the reaction of Staff–Parish when Laurie told them she was getting married. J  It was fun to celebrate our wedding with them, and the subsequent arrival of our children.  They celebrated Brady and Becca’s arrival, and surrounded us when we lost our daughter Hope.  They gave Laurie a gift of extended maternity/bereavement leave.  I’m thankful for how both churches have welcomed our children and me.

During my time among them, I’ve written newsletter articles, preached sermons, led studies, and participated in worship and small groups.  In my writing and speaking, I’ve tried to exhort the people to seek God’s best for their lives as individuals and as a community.  I’ve longed to see us find the threads of glory in our lives—places where our story connects with God’s stories.  I have a passion to see us all live out our full God-given potential and become all we are capable of being in Christ. 

But for a variety of reasons I’ve kept the people at arms length; relationships have remained superficial.  Part of that comes from being an introvert; part of that comes from being the pastor’s spouse; there are other reasons (excuses?) I could list.

Not so for Laurie. When she was ordained the Bishop said to her, “Take thou authority as an elder.” It’s interesting that it’s phrased that way.  It suggests that the authority a person receives as a pastor is not a given.  You have to “take it.”

How does one take authority among a people?  The best answer I can give (as someone who isn’t commissioned to do this but is married to someone who is) is that you love them—with all your heart, all your strength, and all your soul. 

And that is precisely what my wife has tried to do.  She has poured herself out like a drink offering on the altar these past 12 years, giving so much of herself to serve those she is called to shepherd and lead.  I admire this woman’s dedication to her calling.  She has rejoiced with them and shed tears with them. She has baptized them, married them, buried them, ordered the life of their church community, leading them in worship and serving them communion, and serving them in so many other ways along life’s journey.  She worries when one of them is sick or in danger; she wants to be with them when they need to be comforted.  She loves her family but she also loves the people she is called to serve.

By doing all of that, she has earned the people’s trust and respect—but she has also earned something else far more important to living out her call.  She earned the right to take authority among this particular group of people.  In her 12 years with these people, she has accomplished much, but it probably wouldn’t have been possible if she hadn’t invested all the time and energy into these people’s lives. It hasn't always been perfect or easy. In fact, the journey has been long, difficult, and at times even painful.  However, I think that as we end our time in this particular place, we can also say in all sincerity, that the journey has been good.  God has been with us through it all; we are thankful for our time here and for what God has done to us and through us in this place.

And so, I begin to understand why what will happen today is so hard for Laurie.  We both know God calls us to this next place and are excited to see where the journey is going to take us, but it does not making the leaving any less difficult. 

What is about to take place follows in a long tradition. Moses took authority leading the people of Israel to the cusp of the Promised Land but then passed the mantle of leadership to Joshua. Elijah passed the mantle to Elisha.  There came a point when John the Baptist “decreased” so that Jesus could increase.  Barnabas the former mentor gave way to Paul; “Paul” in turn, entrusts authority to Timothy.  And so it goes, on through history.

Methodists have continued in that proud tradition for centuries. Tomorrow, Rev. Laurie Gates–Ward will lay down her stole on the altar of her churches so that, in due time, her successor, Rev. Bonnie McCubbin can take it up. Even as her spouse, her partner on this journey for almost nine years, I’m not sure my words do justice to how difficult this is for her to do.

I pray God will be with us tomorrow and in all the days that follow...  

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