It dawned on me about halfway through today's early worship service. This is the first Advent in over forty years where I haven't had to plan an Advent preaching series, or arrange special Advent wreath devotionals, or figure out what special services and programs we'll sponsor. Just about this time of year for nearly as long as I can remember, I've gotten this sick, panicky feeling in the pit of my stomach, thinking of dinners, Sunday School programs, Christmas Eve services, and the like. I've been blessed with a great team of people who over the years have picked up most of the load so that in recent years, it hasn't been oppressive, but I still worried a lot over it all.
The down side of it all is that I don't get to make the decisions about preaching, but come to think of it, that's the only down side. I wondered how it would feel to turn over the reins to my successor, what it would be like having someone else set the direction and cast the vision. So far, it's been wonderful! I'm able to sit back and enjoy church life, meeting new people and participating as I choose, without feeling that it's my job to follow up every new visitor or staying till the end of every church function to turn out the lights. This afternoon at the end of the community dinner Park sponsored, pastor Joe even herded me out the door, telling me to go home.
I've said it before so often that people either think I'm being paid under the table to sing Joe's praises, or they are just getting tired of it, but I'll say it again: I am so grateful for God's gift to Park church in the form of our pastor. His integrity, his love for Jesus, his leadership, all make it easy to retire. I've witnessed transitions that were disastrous, and am so blessed to be party to one that is a raging success. A year ago, I worried about what I would do if my successor were a dud. Most United Methodist pastors have at least a half dozen churches under their belts by the time they retire, unless they started pastoring as a second career. When that happens, succession doesn't carry the weight it did for me. If I had pastored in a variety of places, it's likely that at least one of them would have transitioned well. If one or two crashed and burned, I would always have had the others to lean on as witness to my ministry. But all my eggs were in Park's basket, and what happens here involves my entire life's work. I am pleased that it's being not only preserved, but used as a launching pad for the future. Its late now, but I lay my head down on my pillow in peace and contentment. Thank you, Joe; and thank you, God!