I thank my God every time I mention you in my prayers. I'm thankful for all of you every time I pray, and it's always a prayer full of joy.[i] (Philippians 1.3-4)
Though we think of it as the special word of the end of worship, the word “benediction” simply means “good words.” Here are my “good words” for you as I write this final staff reflection.
The picture above shows all the wonderful tangible gifts that you gave me Saturday evening at that fabulous fare well dinner (and Sunday at youth group lunch). Thank you and thank you and thank you! I love them all! And they hold precious memories. These gifts and these memories will sustain me as I move through the next year or so before I come back to be with you at congregation gatherings. As the Senior Minister’s spouse! A role I also treasure.
I have just spent the morning (Monday) with Marta and Hal in transition meetings. More are scheduled for Tuesday with JT and the rest of the staff. Rev. Marta is a true gift! She and Hal will be, are already becoming, a great team. Please remember to wear your name tags for her so she can learn names and faces! Please support them both as they move into ministry with you together! Things will be new for Hal and for all of you as well as Marta. Be gentle with yourselves, with Plymouth’s beloved staff and with one another.
Plymouth is coming alive after our pandemic days, beginning to sprout with new people and ministries. The future is so promising! I do thank God for each of you and our time together over the past 8 years and 4 months. Before I leave you with the benediction that I love so much (see the footnote telling from whom I learned it), hear these words of encouragement from Philippians, 4.4-7:
Be glad in the Lord always! Again I say, be glad! Let your gentleness show in your treatment of all people. The Lord is near. Don't be anxious about anything; rather, bring up all of your requests to God in your prayers and petitions, along with giving thanks. Then the peace of God that exceeds all understanding will keep your hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus.[ii]
In the goodness of God you were born into this world.
By the grace of God you have been kept all the day long, even unto this hour.
And by the love of God, fully revealed in the face of Jesus the Christ,
You are being made Whole.[iii]
Go in peace to love and serve, my dear Plymouth!
With you always on the journey,
[i] & [ii] Bible, Common English. CEB Common English Bible with Apocrypha - eBook [ePub] (Kindle Locations 45178-45181).
[iii] Adapted from the benediction created by the late Rev. Dr. John R. Claypool IV who was my pastor as a teen at Broadway Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas. He later became an Episcopal priest.
“If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.”
- Meister Eckhart, medieval German theologian, philosopher and mystic
Thank you, thank you, thank you!
That's all I can say after the touching farewell reception for me last Sunday. It feels like wind in my sails, encouragement to keep doing what is sometimes a difficult ministry of successive transitions. As I've mentioned to many of you, it is clear to me that Spirit called me into interim ministry and I have learned over the years that when spirit calls it is best to say yes. Just ask Jonah.
So this is my official thank you to all of you who have sent me cards, who have offered a kind word, and who have been in collaboration with me in the ministry of Plymouth Church.
It is possible that there is no greater spiritual practice than that of gratitude. Meister Eckhart said it over 600 years ago and it was true before him and to this day. There is something about the original blessing of creation and its goodness that continues as an energetic thread throughout all life and time. There is a deep inherent goodness in life and it is faithful and life giving to feel that and acknowledge that on a regular basis.
That even includes the bittersweet time of endings and goodbyes. It is a good time to acknowledge the goodness of what we have known even as it is time to let go and make room for the next goodness. So, this Sunday both Jane Anne and I will engage with the congregation during worship in a ritual of passage, a formal time of release as your pastors at Plymouth Church. We will give thanks for our time together and mutually ask for forgiveness for any mistakes we have made. We will make the statement of faith that we trust that both our coming and our going is part of a larger goodness. And we will offer encouragement for each other in our next chapters of ministry and life.
At the end of this month, our relationship will change. Pastor Marta will be on the job on March 1st to step into the role of Associate Pastor to teach and preach and to offer spiritual support and care. Neither Jane Anne nor myself will be available to you in the role of pastor from that point onward and that includes weddings, memorials, and baptisms. We have had our Plymouth season with you and a new season is arriving.
I encourage you all to come to worship (9am or 11am) if you can this Sunday to hear Jane Anne preach and to say farewell with gratitude. And, I encourage you to be in worship on Sunday, March 5th to heartily welcome Pastor Marta.
It has been a privilege and am I grateful.
For some, the week before Lent can be crunch time to narrow down the thing they will give up in this upcoming penitential season. A small sacrifice (or large one, if you're feeling particularly masochistic this year!) to experience the withdrawal of an earthly pleasure in hopes of attaining a greater focus on the spiritual. This forty-day respite from one's personal emotional crutches could be characterized, albeit dramatically, as a "farewell to the flesh."
But is it really necessary in order to find the desired equilibrium between the earthly and spiritual? True confessions, I've never been very good at this one! But the Lenten invitation to introspection and meditation in reference to Jesus' forty-day journey in the wilderness I've always found to be a cherished spiritual practice. I hope you accept this invitation as well.
In worship life, we hear and see visceral and intentional variations to our services. Chancel paraments along with the minister and choir's stoles take on a purple hue reflecting the age old custom of liturgical church tradition. The music becomes a bit more introspective to encourage a more prayerful and meditative inner life. Our modern day journey culminates in the solemnity of Holy Week: the agape meal we share on Maundy Thursday to the Good Friday Musical Meditation and Prayer. A time of remembrance and reflection.
I look forward to walking this Lenten journey with you.
You would be right to suspect that many clergy think that rituals are important; after all it’s part of what we do. In our congregation, we baptize, confirm, marry, bless, and bury our members. Each of those is an important ritual marker, a sort of signpost that says, “We are moving from one state of being to another.” In our baptismal covenant, we even say, “We accept you as a new person in Christ.” Rituals help us to acknowledge that we are crossing a threshold. Psychologically, rituals play an important role in helping us to recognize and acknowledge that we are transitioning.
Some rituals are joyous; others allow us to express grief and loss. And still others are bittersweet, mingling the joy and sadness. We have a set of ritual transitions coming up with JT’s departure, Jane Anne’s retirement, and Marta’s arrival that may feel bittersweet to many of us. In accordance with our UCC Book of Worship, we will be releasing both JT and Jane Anne from the vows they have taken as our pastors in worship on February 25. (Bring Kleenex that Sunday!) And not only will we welcome Marta the next Sunday, but we will work with the Conference Committee on Ministry to find a date when the Conference and Plymouth will install her as our settled associate minister.
There will be some less formal components of the ritual in the coming weeks as well. We want to allow members and friends of Plymouth to have an opportunity to bid each of them farewell. A group of laypeople are organizing a time between the services on Sunday, February 19, to offer thanks to JT for the 15 months he has spent as our Bridge Associate Minister. You may wish to contribute to a financial gift for JT and you can do that by writing a check to Plymouth with “JT” in the memo or you can give online here and select “JT Farewell Gift” under the “Fund” dropdown menu.
Jane Anne has served at the Church of Christ in Yale (Battell Chapel), First Plymouth Congregational Church in Denver, Poudre Valley Hospital as chaplain, Henderson Community Church in Henderson, Colo., Community UCC in Boulder, and of course, since 2014, at Plymouth. We will be celebrating Jane Anne’s retirement from ordained ministry (and her entry into the ministry of spiritual direction). A group of laypeople are organizing a retirement dinner for Jane Anne of Saturday, February 25 at 5:00 p.m. in Plymouth’s Fellowship Hall. You are invited to attend and also asked to respond to the invitation by clicking here. If you wish to contribute to a financial gift for Jane Anne, you can write a check to Plymouth with “Jane Anne” in the memo or you can give online here and select “Jane Anne Farewell Gift” under the “Fund” dropdown menu.
Both JT and Jane Anne have been extraordinary colleagues. It has been an honor and a privilege to work with them on worship, pastoral care, staff dynamics, Christian formation, and other areas as well. Even though I am excited to work with Marta, I have a sense of grief at saying farewell to these wonderful colleagues (even though I will continue to see Jane Anne).
Healthy goodbyes enable us to have healthy hellos. I hope you will join us in marking these transitions.