It’s December, and there are some changes in the air. Our worship schedule changes to two services on Sunday mornings: 9:00 and 11:00. Next month, the Saturday night service will move to 5:00 PM, making it a little easier to get here in some daylight.
December is also the month we, as a congregation, begin the mental and emotional transition of wrapping up my ministry among you. As you know, I have announced my retirement, effective February 15, 2018, with my last days of worship leadership on February 10 and 11. This was not an easy decision, although I am told that some in the congregation assumed I would make the announcement at the anniversary dinner on October 18! I was hoping to remain as pastor until the summer of 2019, but I see signs that it will be best for the congregation if I step aside sooner and allow new voices and new ideas to assume leadership roles.
When a new baby is to come in to a family, the family spends months preparing for the arrival. I have been doing the same in preparation for this retirement. The sabbatical leave that I took in 2015 focused on studying how a pastor can effectively retire from a congregation and be sure that the congregation is ready for that transition.
One of the results of that sabbatical was the creation of “Think Tanks”. I recruited six key people from the congregation and gave them eleven focused questions dealing with the present and the future of the congregation. So far, I have convened two of these sessions. I was not present for the conversation, in order for conversation to be free-flowing and unencumbered with fears of hurting my feelings. Minutes were taken of the meetings, but those minutes are in sealed envelopes, and will be given to the call committee, once it is formed. I am hoping that the conversations from these sessions will help the call committee understand where the congregation has been these past two years, and what they are hoping for in the future.
While I don’t have nine months to prepare for what is to come, I can tell you that the next two months will be filled with lists of things to do! By that, I mean making sure that we have the right people in the right places to help provide the leadership that will be necessary to continue moving the congregation forward. Several years ago, a leadership book called “Good to Great” encouraged leaders to make sure that the right people were in the right seats on “the bus”. A person whose main interest is making sure that things go right in worship is not the right person to be heading up a clothing drive. Good leadership skills, perhaps, but not applied in the right area. I’ll be trying to help make some of those matches in the weeks to come.
Think of yourselves as the shepherds in the Christmas narrative. They were out, standing in their field (as many of you are!) when their lives were drastically altered by the appearance of the angels. They were given instructions (“Go and see”), so they obeyed. They went from the stable back to their jobs and told everyone what they had seen and heard. Their shepherding business did not come to a complete halt. They continued doing what they had been doing, only doing it as changed people; people who had experienced the presence of Jesus up close and personal.
That’s you. You, too, have experienced Jesus in so many intimate and personal ways, and have come here to St. Paul’s to share those stories and experiences with the rest of us. Those are the stories we want to share over the next several months. I look forward to hearing them and sharing them among you.