Saying Goodbye and Hello

This past Sunday I said goodbye to the church where I’ve been the transitional pastor.

Twenty-six months of service.

Three beautiful stoles received.

Cards representing the connections we’ve made.

Goodbyes and hellos are a frequent part of my ministry – and while I learn how to do it better each time, it’s still having to say goodbye to people with whom I’ve walked through intense and sometimes painful events, people who have encouraged me when I was down, people I have grown to love and ways of being church that I will miss when I leave.

The Goodbye in the Hello

Coming to Fresno was an accident. I knew I was going to take that job in Southern Oregon but I thought I’d interview with the Fresnans and help them know more clearly what they were looking for. And as it happens with God, the surprise was that I was really taken with the Fresno folks in a way that led me to overlook the really hot summers and all the trash-talk I heard about Fresno – most of which wasn’t not true or decades out-dated.

The last twenty-six months had highs and lows, but on average, looking back, it evened out to above-average. I grew as a pastor out of the down times, and I hope that my ministry helped this congregation, the saints at University Presbyterian Church, to walk through a time of hurt onto a road of grace.

One story: a member of the Fresno church, serving on the council, was not happy about me being the transitional pastor in my first months there. It seemed that everything that I did upset her (not intentionally). She was on the list for an organ transplant, and we all celebrated with her when she got the new organ. Yet only a few weeks later, she took a turn and died quite suddenly. It was heartbreaking.

Only afterwards did I learn from one of her dear friends that she had been secretly working on a quilt for me – as a way of saying sorry for her unwillingness to let me be me and not the pastor before. I was stunned. Even for a skilled quilter, even a small-sized quilt is the work of many hours. And it has  a cat theme. See?

The quilt is unfinished, because of course she was taken from us quickly. I will need to have a border applied, but in it are the memories of how grace comes in all forms.

Saying Hello

And where will I be going to next? The saints of San Jose First United Methodist Church – I am back to being a Methbyterian. It will be a good time – I already am impressed with their journey and willingness to walk into the future. On the personal side, it will be closer to friends and family in the Bay Area, and I’m grateful for that reduced distance. Oh, and the summers will be cooler.

Brandy says “whatever you say.”