From July of 1996 until today, I have had the privilege of communicating with you through this space in our church newsletter. Over the years, I have noted major events in my life and in the life of my family. I have also highlighted special times and occasions in the ministry of our church. Mostly, I have sought to communicate some message of Good News. Today, I hope to do all three as I write my final “Last Word.”
Sunday, March 11th will mark my last Sunday as the senior minister of Central Christian Church. At the end of March, I will begin my ministry with the Disciples of First Christian Church in Keokuk, Iowa. For the first time in more than 25 years, I will be returning to the region in which I grew up. I will have an opportunity to serve once again at the Christian Conference Center (the Upper Midwest’s version of Camp Christian) that was so important in my development as a disciple of Christ and in my decision to enter ministry. And, of course, I will be just a short drive away from my family in Des Moines.
As you might imagine, moving from one church to another is much different than a typical job transfer. As your pastor, I have been with you at some of the most significant times of your lives – births, deaths, baptisms, weddings – joys and struggles of all kinds. You have invited me into your families and I have had the honor of sharing in the most intimate of moments. To say a pastor and his people grow connected through this process is an understatement. The experts on these sorts of things say that grief, on the part of the congregation and the pastor, is normal at times like these. That makes a lot of sense to me. I will miss you all deeply.
After my departure, others will serve as your pastor. I pray you will give the love and trust to them that you have so generously given to me. My code of ethics prevents me from returning in any official, pastoral way. However, that doesn’t lessen my love for you or diminish my interest in your lives or in the ministry you continue.
The one thing I want us all to remember in our final weeks together is that it isn’t about any one minister or even church – but about continuing our focus on Jesus’ mission in the world. The earliest church leaders, like the Apostle Paul, had very close connections to the people in the churches they served and loved, but never forgot their purpose. In Philippians 3, Paul wrote, “…forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on towards the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.” I can’t imagine better words to guide us as we move into the future God has planned for us.
Sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ in word and deed was what inspired me to enter ministry, it was what led me to Central Christian when I was first ordained in 1987 and then again in 1996, and it will continue to guide my life and service in the future. That is something we will always have in common. God bless you all!