Posted tagged ‘church transitions’

The Strange Place Called “Retired Pastor”

September 5, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       September 5, 2016

 

My life has been filled with transitions, as has yours! Transitioning from diapers to diaper-less, going from crawling to walking, from pre-school to kindergarten, elementary to junior high. There was transitioning from not shaving to imagined shaving (Thinking I saw a hair on my chin and needed to shave!) to shaving; and going from dating Carol to being seriously in love with Carol to marrying Carol.

You get the idea! Life is transitory in nature! We have to continually adjust to changes around us and in us.

Eight months ago I retired as a church pastor after thirty-six and a half years in the ministry. I was ready! I had lost my edge! I was tired of the drama, the weekly tasks, and even the distance that the position was creating between my Creator and myself. So I announced almost three months in advance that I was retiring at the end of December.

Retirement has come with its benefits. Carol says that I am a more relaxed now, perhaps easier to live with. I’m home evenings. We are able to share more dinners together than apart. I’ve had more time to read and write. The lawn looks better! There has been more nights when I’ve been able to sit on the couch with the grandkids watching TV like a kid. (Carol was more amused at me the other night as I sat there watching Shrek 2 with them. I laughed like a kid, because in those moments I was!)

But retirement has also come with its challenges. Being a retired pastor is a strange place to be in. For sixty percent of my life I had been an actively employed pastor. It had become as natural to me as throwing right-handed. Transitioning from that has been one of the hardest changes in my life.

Why is that? Because a pastor is relationally wired. Pastoring is not like a faucet that you can turn on and off at a turn of the wrist. Right now two people who are dear to me are dealing with illnesses that are most likely terminal. Not being their pastor any longer puts me in that strange place of trying to be redefined. Who am I now? A friend? I’m okay with that, but who am I to them? They still refer to be as Pastor Bill.

As pastors we have a Code of Ethics that we commit to follow. Much of it is written with the understanding that it is difficult for people to see someone who has been their pastor as now being their former pastor. Therefore the former pastor needs to keep that distance from those he/she has been the pastor to. It has wisdom in it. If the former pastor still keeps popping up those he pastored will keep reinserting him into his former role. If a church was like a car transmission it would be a car with transmission trouble, having trouble shifting from one gear to another. For the congregation there would be great difficulty in being able to shift from one pastor to the next.

My son-in-law has encountered some similar dynamics in his dental practice. He and my daughter bought the practice from a retiring dentist last fall. Several times he has encountered those words: “Dr. So-and-So didn’t do it that way!”

It is hard for people to transition from one trusted professional to the next. Dentists, doctors, barbers, and especially pastors. The pastor has been there for the crises, the deaths and the births. He has been the confidant and the encourager.

And now he is retired!

This strange new place I’m in has been populated with new adventures, but also deeply-rooted problems that I’ve stubbed my toe on. As time has gone on, and as my former church has gotten closer to calling the next person to come and be the pastor, I’ve become more distant from those I used to pastor. That isn’t a good thing, but a necessary thing.

The small church, a forty-five minute drive away from town, has become my unofficial “pastoring outlet.” I get to preach, pray for, and offer encouragement like I had been doing. I’m like an old dog who gets taken out to the woods and allowed to run around a bit to keep me moving.

As I figure out this new place I’m in there will be moments of celebration and times of depression. I look behind me at the years of footprints and look ahead at a different terrain that requires a change in footwear.

 

Letting Go of My Cassette Tapes

June 8, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                June 8, 2016

                                

It’s been a difficult week. I took my carrying case of cassette tapes to Goodwill! It was comparable to that day several years ago when Carol and I took Lizi, our youngest, to college.

Carol has been cleaning up the basement this week. The trunk of our car was loaded with various boxes and forgotten treasures. I was okay with the old humidifier finding its place in the trunk, but then…then (dramatic music for effect)…she brought out the tape case.

I had forgotten about it, but then I started looking at all the products of music production that it held.

Twila Paris….Bohemian Melodies…Lake Wobegon Days…Whale Sounds…DeGarmo and Key…Cat Stevens…Andrae Crouch…Larry Norman…Keith Green! The last three are now dead, but hey!…their music never dies…unless, of course, its on a cassette tape.

I begrudgingly zipped the case closed and said a few holy words over it, sprayed incense in the air, tore my cloak and threw ashes on my head, and then drove the condemned to Goodwill.

I realize that neither of our vehicles has a tape player, and the one cassette player we have is somewhere unknown, but it is hard to let go of objects that I’ve associated with a certain period of my life.

Cassette tapes were from a time when Carol and I were raising three kids. There’s a sweetness to those memories. I would listen to Twila Paris as I prepared the Sunday message. When the music ended, I pressed the eject button and the tape door would open. I’d flip the cassette over and press Play. Good times and good music.

Life is littered with those Goodwill moments when we just need to let some things go. Pack them up and move on.

Churches usually aren’t very good at that. Sentiment runs high. Every congregation has a certain number of people who want things to stay the same. Like with my cassette tapes, I just wanted them to be there in case, for some odd reason, on a rainy afternoon I ever had the urge to hear whale sounds again.

Years ago there was a man in my church who had to travel most of the time. He would be gone for three or four months and then be home for a week. I got wind of the fact that he wasn’t going to come to church anymore so I called him. He said the church had changed, that it wasn’t the same. In essence, he wanted it to be there for him whenever he had the urge or possibility of attending. In his turbulent and fast-paced life he wanted the worship service to be the same as it had been in order to bring back to him memories of a period of his life that he longed to return to.

It’s hard to say goodbye, because we feel that we’re being insensitive. There are those who transition, it seems, with ease, and then there are those of us who hold on because we associate whatever we’re grasping with God. If it at one time was a vehicle of God we think it borders on blasphemy to get rid of it.

Churches are often hoarders out of a confused love for God. It’s like when I go to Best Buy and purchase a new Blu-Ray player, and then bring it home and sit it on top of my DVD player, which is still sitting on top of my VHS player.

Sometimes we just have to take the cassette tapes to Goodwill!

What Carol doesn’t realize is that I sneaked half a dozen tapes out of the case when she was out of the room. I think that’s okay! Bohemian Melodies, it seems, are few and far between these days.