By now you have heard the news of my impending retirement at the end of October. I sense some trepidation on your part, and I confess on mine. We both will be entering new territory. You will turn the chapter as you seek new leadership for the first time in thirty-four years. And I will enter an exciting but uncharted phase of life in retirement, living without pastoral responsibilities for the first time in forty-five years. A question we should be entertaining is, “How do we start preparing for this next adventure in our lives?”
Right now, you may be experiencing a bit of what I am sensing—a whole lot of nostalgia. It is so easy to look back on our shared history with fondness. But I warn you that nostalgia, if it is allowed to overwhelm us, can be both joyful and painful. Someone facetiously noted, “Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be!” I recall the story of the old fellow named Jack who was dying of old age, and he was on his death bed. Suddenly a delicious smell wafted into the room, a smell this fellow knew all too well. "Oh, my loving wife, she knows I am dying and she's cooking my absolute favorite, fresh chocolate chip cookies!" Shaking badly, Jack rolls out of bed and slides downstairs, crawling to the kitchen, the smell of the cookies awaking long dormant memories in his mind. "Oh, my loving wife, she's cooked me so many cookies!" Indeed, the countertops were covered in hundreds of chocolate chip cookies. With a mixture of agony, nostalgia and joy, a trembling hand stretched out, tears streaming down his cheeks, Jack reaches up to grab a cookie from the counter. Suddenly a wooden spoon smacks him sharply on the hand and his wife screeches, "JACK! THOSE ARE FOR THE WAKE!!"
I must say that I look back on our years together with pride and a sense of accomplishment. We have done many remarkable things at Bethany. Some of you may remember the South County Coalition for the Homeless. I worked with other pastors in our community to create this group to focus on a problem that was receiving little or no attention in southern Maryland in the early 1990s. We basically adopted a homeless family, subsidized their rent, taught them how to handle money, and gave them the opportunity to succeed. Some of you acted as sponsors to walk people through the process. Some families succeeded; some did not. But we made an attempt. From that experience, we ventured into support for the county’s Warm Nights Program. I remember taking Chris Wisecarver and a few members of the Christian Action Committee to the Presbyterian Church to see how they were able to participate in Warm Nights. On the ride back, Chris says to me, “We can do that!” And she proceeded to organize our annual effort. We also enjoyed working alongside our ecumenical partners in the A.C.T. Cluster to serve Camp Springs. Anyone remember the tornado and our chili dinners to feed the community?
I recall our Bethany Fairs in the summer and sitting in the dunking booth to raise a few dollars. I can’t believe you took joy in seeing me wet! I have loved, as well, the Christmas Bazaars, with all the colors and pageantry fitting the season and temperament of our folks. It was always long weeks of preparation, a long day of work, and some weeks of cleanup. But they will remain some of my most enjoyable moments among you. I will carry with me the wonderful music being played so faithfully by Dorothy Bush on her keyboard. And the bottom line is that, whether Fairs or Bazaars, this church raised untold dollars for special projects.
I recall teaching a Sunday School class for most of my time at Bethany. We had some really tough discussions but there was always a level of respect displayed by folks who truly wanted to understand scripture, God, themselves, this world. We have had some powerful worship services where people were challenged to think for themselves, to grow in their relationship with God. Some found God here and I rejoice that we made the introduction. And, boy, the music has been extraordinary. Kathy Keough and David Emanuel, our chancel and handbell choirs, and our youth and children have wowed more times than I can remember. And, oh how I was humbled doing a Children’s Sermon!
Working with the Christian Women’s Fellowship, our men’s group, youth group, and Junior Disciples was simply a joy. Our Bethany Retreats were always special moments of insight, laughter, tears. Oh, I will never forget the Fellowship Dinners and parties. Kudos to Mary Ann Frazier and her family. The food has been exquisite, unrivalled. The times we chatted around the tables or made fun of ourselves in dramas or musical presentations were uplifting. There is such a sweet, sweet Spirit in this place.
We could go on looking back, reminiscing over our shared past. I think it is healthy to a point. But at some point, we need to look in the other direction—not our past, but our future. Who knows what awaits us out there tomorrow, the pages of our story still to be written? I am telling you, as I am telling myself: God knows, so don’t fear! Trust God. God is working even now to prepare us both for what comes next. Though we will be going our separate ways, the adventure continues. Let us get excited about the possibilities. Something good awaits us both. To God be the glory!