Settle down and get comfortable – this is a long tale.
I usually give something up for Lent that I’ll really miss and look forward to getting back on Easter. For a middle Protestant with no tradition of Lenten giving-up, that seems like a neat part of the tradition. It reinforces the hard waiting and the joyful return. (Although after the year I gave up coffee, Adam asked me never to do THAT again. I had to agree. There’s hard and there’s almost missing your tax return date because you can’t fathom doing taxes without coffee to help you.)
This year, though, I approach Easter with both joyful anticipation and great reluctance.
You see, the week AFTER Easter will be the last week that my pastor will be my pastor. Rod, and his lovely wife, have been a more-than-weekly part of my life since the day I became an adult. With my history, I more or less know what month that happened. In August of 2000 – two months after I graduated – I married Adam. I was 21. He brought me home to a lovely, sunlit apartment in Roslindale that I had not seen before I crossed its threshold with the 23 year old I’d only had a few hours to call “husband”. We only spent a few hours in the apartment before we took a flight out of Logan to Greece, where we’d honeymoon. When we returned on a Saturday a week or so later, we were tired. Now I am Presbyterian. I was born in the mission field to missionary Presbyterian parents. I was baptized in a Presbyterian Church by a fire-speaking pastor on an equitorial Sunday. I have attended Presbyterian Churches my whole life. My summer camps that weren’t orchestral were Presbyterian. My sister, brother, mother, father and I are all ordained Presbyterian elders/deacons (actually I’m the only one)/ministers. So while I was LITERALLY in the honeymoon phase of my marriage, I wanted to start the married habit of attending church with my beloved new husband. And I wanted a Presbyterian church. But they are few and hard to find in New England, so that groggy Sunday after we landed I took the path of least resistance and we went to the Presbyterian Church 20 miles away that had been near Adam’s LAST apartment.
I settled into the pews, fresh in my matronness and ring sparkly on my left finger, and the sermon was GOOD. And we were warmly welcomed. And there was a coffee hour in the finest of Presbyterian traditions. And it felt very right. And so the next week I also forgot to look up a closer church. And the week after.
We have attended that church through three different houses in three different towns. We have taught Sunday School and confirmation there. We have baptized our sons there. We have made life-long friends. We have taken solemn vows to love and teach the vibrant rainbow-line of squirmy children on the stairs at word for children. We have buried friends, and comforted the grieving. It is our church, our home, our family.
For the fourteen years that span my adult life, there has been one person standing in that pulpit – Rod. That pulpit-relationship is where it begins, of course. Rod is one of the finest preachers I have had the chance to listen to. (And remember, I have attended services every week of my life.) He finds that difficult line between offering a challenge that makes me think differently, and sometimes change how I behave, but without go so far to challenge that in fear or recoil I stop listening. His sermons are academic enough to keep me interested, but relevant enough to speak to my heart as well as my mind.
But the relationship – the friendship – goes far past the pulpit. Rod, his wife (who prefers her privacy) and I have shared dinner together. We’ve played music together. (He plays a mean piano – you should try to lure it out of him.) We’ve caroled together and sung rousing renditions of “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” to folks whose illness or debility means they have trouble leaving their homes. We’ve done skits together. We’ve attended countless committee meetings. We’ve sung hymns through late nights in long Presbytery meetings which have decided small steps in the question of whether the Presbyterian Church would be one that welcomes all people.
When the time came for me to give birth to my second child, Adam and I were in a bind. We have no family in New England. Michael was terribly sick with the lingering aftereffects of cancer – he would die only a few months later – and Laureen could not come to us. My parents were working and tied down in Seattle. We were only just coming to know our neighbors. Who would stay with Grey while I delivered our second son? A friend got the first call and overnight shift, but on the second shift, we called Rod. He came and stayed with Grey – a familiar and friendly presence. He even did the dishes. With both my sons, he was the first to come and visit the new life in the hospital room. Friends who saw the pictures asked, “Is that your dad?” No, it’s my pastor.
So as I count up to Easter, with joy, I also count down to farewell, with very mixed feelings. I will miss Rod and his wife very, very much. In our church, when a pastor leaves, it is a real leave-taking. He will never lead another service from that pulpit, or chair another committee meeting. They are moving – not so far away that we’ll NEVER see them, but far enough that it will be rare.
On Maundy Thursday, Thane took communion with us for the first time. I finagled it so I could kneel before him to serve it. But then I also served Rod, who had blessed our cup and our bread. Then he turned and served me. And I was breathless with tears at the sacrament – a first and a last so close together.
Rod and his wife go forward to a new stage of their lives. I have told them that I’m a little jealous. They have finished with the stages of “should” and “ought” and “supposed to” and “had better”. They are now in the only stage of life where your labors are determined by what you would do, what you are called to do, what you want to do – and what you can do. A part of me feels like a parent with a graduating high school senior. I send them away from me and will miss them horribly, but would not wish them back to their old roles. The time for moving on is here.
So, Rod and Cathy, go into the world in peace and continue the service. What does our God ask of us but to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with our God? May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with us all: today, tomorrow and always.
For any who have also loved Rod, we’ll be giving him a rousing BPC farewell with a huge International Dinner at 6 pm on Saturday, April 26 2014. The next day, Sunday April 27th, will be his final service with us and will be followed by a massive coffee hour I’m hosting. So come.