There are as many ways of saying goodbye, I suppose, as there are routes to be taken to the sea. Think of this: we have had nearly eight months to get our minds around the idea of my retirement and departure as your pastor. Eight months! We have had time to chat with one another, study options, talk about accomplishments, remember both good and bad times and all within the loving context of this church that is so much a harbor to us. We travel toward the sea, we return to this harbor.
Most goodbyes, as you well know, are not so intentional. People leave our lives abruptly and there is not time to tie up loose ends. But we have had this remarkable time of intention and in that time our leaders have bravely taken on the tasks associated with finding a pastor. And during that time we have continued to BE the Church—as we experienced so brilliantly this past Sunday in the Christmas music program provided by our choir and musicians. And as we have experienced in worship, Sunday after Sunday, never missing a beat; gathering for prayer and a Word from God; baptizing, communing and living within the sphere of the Gospel.
This does not necessarily remove the sting of departure. And truly, that sting becomes most poignant when absence is finally encountered—my office, for example, empty of books and the various artifacts of my faith from candles to crosses. It looks and is empty. What we must do our best to remember is that we navigate our lives within the narrative of good news that is Christ. And we know that he had conversations with his disciples about his departure. He would tell them things like, “I must leave but I am not leaving you as orphans in the world.” And he said, “Let not your hearts be troubled…” I encourage you to read the entire 14th chapter of the Gospel of John. You will find much to encourage and comfort you there.
The presence of a loved one—a family member, a friend or yes, an old pastor—is like a lingering perfume. They may leave us but they are never truly absent. And that holds true for me as I and Melinda come to terms with a new routine that will not include worshipping at Riverside (and let me just say that if we think about it, we can understand why best practices include a pastor stepping out of the congregation s/he has led—I would find it difficult not to be your pastor and you would find it difficult not to respond to me as pastor and that, dearly beloved, would lead to frictions that simply do not need to arise as you make a way into a future with a new pastor). The gift of your presence remains with us. We will call on that when we are missing you and of course, we will commend you to God who, through the Holy Spirit, will provide you peace that passes all understanding. God be with us ’til we meet again. ~Pastor Bledsoe