Here’s the first thing I want you to know: I love you. I have loved this congregation from the moment I began interviewing. Aside from marrying Allen, serving with you in ministry these last 16 years has been the greatest joy of my life. I have grown so much in our time together. I am deeply grateful to you for helping me to grow.
I’m also grateful for all the ways you have grown these last 16 years. After taking the historic–and brave–vote to become Open and Affirming 20 years ago, you have lived into your ONA identity with integrity and unwavering commitment. When I came on the scene in June 2001, your missions outreach already was strong. Since then–especially through Family Promise–your commitment to service has continued to grow. You take seriously the call to act the world into wellbeing. That commitment inspires me.
You’ve also grown in worship. The idea for the 8:30 service came in 2005 or so, in part, in response to an uptick in attendance. What started as a need for space has resulted in a weekly communion service that serves as a place of healing and rest for many. I will miss sharing the holy meal around the table with you each week.
There are myriad other ways you have grown as a community. I look forward in the coming weeks to sharing together the journey we’ve been making since 2001.
I suspect you’re curious about the place to which I’m going….and the process by which I decided to go there. Here’s a little background.
The decision to activate my ministerial profile came after a long period of discernment… and getting real about my age. I’ll be 53 in January. After doing the math, I realized that, if I were to seek a new call, it was pretty much now or never.
Despite having activated my profile in October of 2016, I still thought about the possibility of staying at Pilgrimage. As late as Labor Day, that still was an option. Staying was still option because I love serving as your pastor. I am energized by the way you live the Gospel here in East Cobb. I am humbled by the way you love and care for each other.
I also considered staying because the prospect of saying goodbye filled me with dread. Saying goodbye is going to hurt. A lot….But through prayer and conversations with colleagues and with Allen, I now know that I am being called to serve another congregation. After 16 years as your pastor, it’s time for me to move on.
The congregation that has called me to serve as its Senior Minister is First Congregational, UCC, in Asheville, North Carolina. Many of you have asked about Allen. The church already has a Music Director, so Allen and I won’t be working together. In fact, our work here at Pilgrimage may be the last time we’ll have that opportunity. We offer our profound thanks for the gift you have given us to share together in ministry with you these last 12 years.
FCUCC, as they call themselves…after a while, it doesn’t sound quite so awkward. J FCUCC is just over 100 years old. The congregation is a little larger than Pilgrimage. Because Asheville is something of a retirement Mecca, there are many active retirees in the congregation. Thirty ordained clergy are members. Many of those clergy are retired Baptist pastors. Kind of feels like going home. J There are a few families with children. The church has a strong commitment to growing in that area.
In 2004, the congregation bought a Disciples church in downtown Asheville that was closing. They’ve been working in the intervening years to update the buildings.
The sanctuary does have stained glass windows, but they don’t cast colors like these do. I will miss the colors.
FCUCC has a strong commitment to social justice. In fact, they were the UCC church a couple of years ago that challenged the Supreme Court on marriage equality. Also, they were the first congregation in the state of North Carolina to install solar panels. Three years ago, they installed a geo-thermal HVAC system. They’re also committed to economic justice, housing women without permanent housing in a program very similar to Family Promise.
I know it sounds glamorous to be moving to Asheville, but the Asheville folks experience on vacation is different from everyday Asheville. Gentrification has taken over Asheville City, which has driven up housing costs. I spoke with one person who works for Homeward Bound, a nonprofit that works to get vulnerable people into permanent housing. He told me finding affordable housing for clients isn’t easy. I look forward to exploring further the divide between tourist Asheville and everyday Asheville and what it means to be church between the two.
There will be time later to share more about FCUCC if you’re interested. For now, I simply want you to know that I am confident God is calling me to serve with FCUCC, Asheville. Also know that they are praying for us as we begin this transition. Having been without a settled pastor for over two years, they understand how hard pastoral transitions can be.
So, now what? How do we act each other into wellbeing as we begin the process of saying goodbye? I make a pledge to you not to belabor the goodbye process, especially in worship. Advent begins in a couple of weeks. The focus of Advent will be Advent. We’re still a church; I’m still the pastor….and what churches and pastors do during December is Advent. So, Advent is what we’ll do. J
Today and next Sunday, I want to look briefly at a couple of things that won’t change during the transition. Next week, we’ll look at the call of all followers of Jesus to care for the least of these. This week, I invite us to look at the call to be generous.
Years ago on the TV show, ER, Dr. Mark Green—the show’s star—was dying of a brain tumor. He, his wife, and his teenage daughter rented a house in Hawaii for Mark’s final days. The family’s time is tense, not only because Mark is dying, but because his daughter, Rachel, teenager that she is, is being rebellious.
Finally, just before Mark dies, he asks Rachel to come talk with him. She comes near wearing her ever-present sullen expression. Mark tells her, “I’ve been wondering what one thing I could tell you before I die…what one thing would I want you to remember about me when I’m gone. It’s finally come to me. The one thing I want you to remember is this: ‘Be generous.’”
Just to be clear. I’m not dying and you’re not being rebellious. I’ve not seen even the hint of a sullen expression. Mark’s word to his daughter, though, feels right for this moment as we begin our goodbye: Be generous.
If Mark had been a pastor, he might have invited Rachel to read part of today’s 2 Corinthians text. I invite you to hear a portion of the text in the context of this new moment we’ve entered. What will it mean for us to be generous in the coming days and weeks? Hear again a reading from 2 Corinthians:
Keep this in mind: if you plant sparingly, you will reap sparingly, and if you plant bountifully, you will reap bountifully. You must give according to what you have inwardly decided–not sadly, not reluctantly, for God loves a giver who gives cheerfully. There are no limits to the grace of God, who will make sure you will always have enough of everything and even a surplus for good works, as scripture says:
‘God scattered abroad // And gave to poor people; // God’s justice endures forever.’
The One who provides seed for the planter and bread for food will also supply and enlarge your store of seed and increase your harvest of justice. You will be made rich in every way for your generosity, for which we—for which I—give thanks to God.
If you respond to these words, then for you they have become the living word of God. Thanks be to God!
It feels appropriate to begin our goodbye process on Thanksgiving Sunday. What better way to frame the next nine weeks than giving thanks for all we’ve shared together?
Our Women Touched by Grace gathering next April will be led by folk singer Carrie Newcomer. Yeah, I’m stoked. In preparation, we were sent Carrie’s latest CD. Two songs on the CD have been especially poignant for me as I begin this moment of transition.
The chorus of A Shovel Is a Prayer, describes the experience of my call to FCUCC:
“For all your searching, there’s nothing to do. What you’ve been looking for is looking for you.” Especially in the last month, I’ve had the strong sense that FCUCC worked as hard on their discernment as I worked on mine. It really does feel like we’re being called to serve together.
The other song that’s helping me, especially as we begin our work here at Pilgrimage, is You Can Do This Hard Thing. Wednesday, I listened to the song three times in a row. After that, I decided that I might be able to do this hard thing…unless it’s listening to You Can Do This Hard Thing three times in a row. J
Tending well to goodbyes is a hard thing. It’d be so much easier to skip over the painful parts of the process…or to check out of the process all together. I want to encourage us all to stay with it. If you’ve ever had to grieve a loss, you know that skipping over or rushing parts of the process doesn’t help. By staying with it, we can feel the pain, then move on—a little stronger and a little wiser—to whatever comes next. That’s my prayer for all of us.
The song is long, but I want to play it for you. (No worries. I’ll only play it once!) May it remind us all that we can indeed “do this hard thing.”
In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness. Amen.
Kimberleigh Buchanan © 2017