Thank You and Fare Well
“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.
Waiting for What Comes Next……
From Hal’s Desk, where Ron has been sitting until today……
As you know, I am literally on my way out the door. We are in town through Thanksgiving to be with the family, but the next few days will involve several things.
I have resolved to finish our Christmas letter. It is crazy and perhaps we will fail, but we decided to do it anyway because we know that our Advent season will be very short when we return home. It seems daunting, but I intend to make the time. It is so important to let loved ones and friends know that you are thinking of them and to share a memory and express a hope that there are things worth living for and dreams worth having. It is a sort of benediction (good words) on the past year and a blessing on the year to come, that we are planning to send out into the world by snail mail. I know it’s only a letter, but I believe that any chance to make the Word flesh is worth taking!
I also plan to complete one last weaving project. It has been a great Ft. Collins visit on that score—I have managed to weave 25 yards of fabric which includes 14 place mats, six table runners, and 7 hand towels. These were completed with the support of the staff at Lambspun, my favorite yarn store in Fort Collins, aided by the fact that I have only worked with this amazing congregation and its staff part-time. One real plus of my weaving time was the presence of a few Plymouth folk, who knit and weave there too.
Next Sunday, I will be sharing in the Baptism of my two Fort Collins grandchildren during the second service. Let’s be clear, I will be doing the traditional motions and asking the questions, but you, dear congregation, will be doing the Baptism. In our tradition, the Sacrament of Baptism belongs to the gathered congregation representing the Spirit of the Loving God. As I explained to the grandchildren, there is nothing magical about Baptism or their "Opa,” other than a biological family and a church family agreeing that they need one another and that they affirm one another as care givers for children in the presence of a loving God. The tradition can wax all theological about it, but Baptism is the church welcoming God’s children in a visible way!
Then the following week, just before we leave, we will share Thanksgiving with our family here. This is a holiday with more than a little freight. We could discuss that at another time, but it does have potential. It might raise a justice question or two in our minds concerning food, or the genocide of indigenous people, or the American fixation on the violent sport of football and the sacrifice of young lives destined to suffer the consequences of traumatic brain injury. Thanksgiving can be much more than well-stuffed relatives sharing a meal. I do love that part of it, of course!
Once again, thank you for the joy of sitting at Hal’s desk!
Into the Great Unknown
I have always been the sort of person who likes to know exactly what they are getting into before starting something new. I spent most of my first day of kindergarten observing my classmates from the corner of the room, desperately trying to figure out exactly what everyone else was doing before I dared to try to join in. Before starting college, I spent so much time researching schools, majors, and potential career paths that I was essentially a walking course catalog by the time I set foot on campus. And back in August of 2020, I did something that was extremely out of character for someone who always wants to dip a toe into the water before diving in: I agreed to serve as Plymouth’s Interim Director of Christian Formation for Youth in the midst of a pandemic and with absolutely no idea of what the year might hold.
To my great surprise, many of my fondest memories from this year came from the moments of greatest uncertainty. When it looked like we might not be able to hold our traditional Sleepout in December due to the pandemic, an incredible team of youth and adult volunteers found a way to put together a drive-in vigil and at-home Sleepout that raised nearly $30,000 for Neighbor to Neighbor. When the pandemic reached its peak and we were forced to transition our weekly youth groups from in-person to virtual meetings, our youth continued to show up each week with energy and optimism even in less-than-ideal conditions. And even though I often found myself feeling like an unsuspecting audience member who had been chosen from the crowd to join an improv troupe, I also found that being forced to operate without the usual “playbook” only served to magnify the joy of the many unexpectedly wonderful moments that the year had to offer.
Now, armed with the confidence I’ve gained after a year of diving headfirst into the unknown, I am about to take yet another leap of faith: tomorrow will be my last day as Plymouth’s Interim Youth Director, and in a few weeks, I will be heading out to Indiana to begin a new role as a Student Success Coach at Purdue University. I may not know exactly what this next step will look like or what challenges lie ahead, but if this year has taught me anything, it is that an unknown future is something to be celebrated rather than feared. In the wise words of Corrie Ten Boom, “Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God."
Here’s to whatever unexpected and exciting future lies ahead of all of us!
All the best,
A Ritual to Release
You are invited to participate in a ritual to release with this video.
Below the video is the letter that Mandy wrote to the congregation on July 23 to say goodbye.
I am writing to you today with some difficult news. On Tuesday, I tendered my resignation as Director of Christian Formation for Children and Youth effective August 15, 2020. That is a special day to me, because it is our 6th year anniversary together. It has truly been an honor to serve you in this role for so long and I will forever be grateful for our ministry together.
We have had an incredible six years together, full of growth, transitions, blessings, challenges, laughter and tears. You welcomed me into your community when I was fresh off my honeymoon and moved from Michigan to be with Chris while he finished his PhD at CSU. You welcomed me into your homes and into your lives. It has been my privilege to watch your kids grow up - from nursery to elementary and from elementary to highschool and beyond. I smiled when the toddler who wouldn’t let go of their parent’s hand, started running with joy to their classroom. I watched as the shy sixth grader refused to get out of the car for youth group, grew into a confident leader. I was there when the La Foret camper became a counselor, creating holy mischief with the younger kids.
I have so many wonderful memories of our time together. For example, watching the youth hide easter eggs on the roof because they were so excited as kids when they found them there; the trips to Wendy’s on our way down to La Foret and always showing up late on Friday night because of the bad traffic; the joy of seeing our teens and college students dress up for the 3pm Christmas service, with the tallest angel and gender bending holy family; walking down the hallway in the north wing and getting hugs and smiles from the kiddos who wanted to share their art projects with me; and all of the meetings, storytelling and scheming over a pint of cider at Scrumpy’s. You have filled my heart with joy and I have felt so loved by each of you. I pray that you know you are loved and that you have been blessed by our time together as much as I have.
I am so grateful for the volunteers that brought life and light to the programs, who helped them go from (sometimes crazy) ideas to transformative ministries. I am humbled by the countless hours and love that you have poured into the life of this church. I am grateful for all of the child care staff members who have taught me how to be a better manager and leader. I am grateful to the staff members who have walked with me on this journey of faithfully serving God and serving you. I am grateful to all of the parents who trusted me with a small part of their children’s spiritual development. I am grateful for the children and youth who let me walk alongside them as they grew deeper in faith, as they pushed back against church, as they asked questions and began to articulate their own beliefs. It has been my honor to be a part of your journey. You will never know how much you taught, challenged and blessed me.
Together we experimented with new ways of doing Christian Formation in a progresive setting. I have been amazed by the creativity and energy that so many of you put into the children and youth ministries. Your willingness to change and try new things blew me away. I am tempted to list all the different iterations of the Formation ministries over the years, but you know them. We did the hard work of change, growth and evolution together. Yes, there were some spectacular failures along the way, and I hope that you will forgive me for them. Your strength, resilience and faith allowed us to keep trying hard things. I pray that you continue to dream big for your children’s faith development and your own. For the past six years, you didn’t let the familiar overshadow your potential for growth. May you continue to be brave and to listen for God to speak and move in your ministry.
It is time for me to be brave and step out of the boat. Through prayer I have discerned a new call to Hospice ministry and I have accepted a position as Chaplain at Dignity Hospice of Colorado. I feel called to hold a sacred space for individuals and families as they grapple with the reality of death. It will be hard work, but it will be good work.
I am thankful for all that I have learned from my time at Plymouth. We have been through a lot together. I am truly grateful for all the ways that this church and its ministry has challenged me, encouraged me, and helped me to grow as a person and as a minister. Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU!
Grace and Peace,