At our Final First Friday Fiesta a few weeks ago, Neil Clark, as he is wont to do, asked a question. “What do you think the title of Kim’s last sermon will be?” He voted for “I’m Outta Here!” Karen voted for “So long, farewell…” from the Sound of Music. A good guess for me. I already had chosen a title…which Neil’s question, of course, inspired me to change.
Neil’s question reminded me that the words I am speaking today will be my last words to you as your pastor. Like, these are the words that will reverberate in your minds as Allen and I leave for Asheville tomorrow. No pressure, right? 🙂 What can I possibly say after 16½ years? What final word might sum up my experience as your pastor?
Finally, it came to me. Here’s what I hope will stick in your minds as I leave to serve another congregation: Thank you. From the depths of my being, from the bottom of my heart, from the center of every cell in my body–THANK YOU.
THANK YOU for taking a chance on a first-time pastor, still healing from her Baptist wounds.
THANK YOU for encouraging me to grow as a minister.
THANK YOU for working with me and growing with me in ministry here at Pilgrimage.
THANK YOU for your patience as I finished my Ph.D.
THANK YOU for your playfulness and vision in finding new ways act the world into wellbeing.
THANK YOU for envisioning and installing these stunning stained glass windows.
THANK YOU for caring for each other so well.
THANK YOU for supporting this church with your time, talents, and treasure.
THANK YOU for listening as intently as you can to the still-speaking God.
THANK YOU for participating in workdays and Christian education and spirituality groups and book club and the men’s probability group.
THANK YOU for loving all children and youth.
THANK YOU for your servant’s heart…for participating in the ministries of MUST and Family Promise.
THANK YOU for being brave…for welcoming our friends of other faiths, especially our friends from Ahmadiyya Muslim Community.
THANK YOU for loving music and for offering your many musical gifts to this community. Thank you, Choir, for your selfless, faithful commitment. Last Sunday, Allen commented on how well you’ve been singing lately. I told him it’s the love that’s been coming through. Thank you, Choir.
THANK YOU for what appears to be the last opportunity Allen and I will have to work together on a church staff.
THANK YOU for loving Allen. (The requests for Allen to stay even after I move…Um, sorry. No. We’re a package deal. 🙂
THANK YOU for sharing your feelings with me since I announced my resignation. The emotions have run the gamut, I know. All of us have much to learn from these feelings. I have appreciated your sharing all of them.
THANK YOU for stepping up to positions of leadership and service, even as I’m leaving the scene. For a pastor to leave with a fully-staffed Council and Executive Committee? I suspect that’s a rare occurrence.
THANK YOU for tending so well to all the administrative details of the pastoral transition. Special thanks to Ben Alspach for his leadership of Council and to the rest of Council for your good and thoughtful work.
THANK YOU for offering your support to Wayne and his work with our Youth. It has been a joy to work with Wayne and to watch him grow.
THANK YOU for supporting Rochelle as she has lived into her own call to ministry. I think you know what a gem you have in Rochelle.
THANK YOU for hiring Lynne Buell almost 9 years ago. I’ve often said that Lynne has far surpassed any administrative assistant I ever could have dreamed up…and I’m a big dreamer. To have someone in that position who is extremely competent, creative, and who does everything she does out of deep love for God and for the church…Lynne, you have been a gift to me and to this community. Thank you.
THANK YOU for giving me the benefit of the doubt. My leadership style is a bit unconventional. Unconventional can be challenging. In the leave-taking liturgy we’ll be doing in a minute, we’ll ask each other’s forgiveness for mistakes we’ve made. I am grateful for the leeway you’ve given me to make mistakes…which is to say,
THANK YOU for accepting me as a human being with all her gifts and her flaws.
THANK YOU for listening generously over this more than a decade and a half. In some respects, what we do here every week is like some ancient practice the rest of the world abandoned long ago. For 16 ½ years, you’ve sat there once a week (more or less) and listened to me talk. Where else does that happen? How grateful I am that you have received my frail offerings with grace, curiosity, questions…and occasional challenges.
THANK YOU for loving me. My primary role with you has been to be your pastor. Even so, you have reminded me often that I’m also a fellow journeyer with you all on our pilgrimage together. Thank you for acting me into wellbeing.
Pilgrimage is the kind of place where some people come and stay, while others come for a season then move on. I’ve often said playfully, “The place is called ‘Pilgrimage’ for a reason.” My pilgrimage with Pilgrimage has been among the most joyful experiences of my life. Leaving is hard, but I know I am being called to a new leg of my journey. As this season ends, it’s time for me to move on…
…which brings me to my final thank you. THANK YOU for letting me go. A pastor who is leaving sometimes worries about how the congregation will get along once she leaves. When I saw the email to Council last Wednesday about deep-cleaning my office and painting it to get it ready for the next pastor, I knew I have nothing to fear on that front. You all already are moving ahead without me. That is such good news. Our work together has been effective and, for me, joyful. But the season of our working together is now at an end. Our letting each other go will make it possible for all of us to thrive in our continued work of acting the world into wellbeing. So thank you for letting me go. I’m letting you go, too.
As we worked together on our final bulletin together last Wednesday, Lynne called out, “What about a graphic?” It was probably the 447th time she’d asked that question. And for at least the 402nd time I said, “I don’t know.” After about 5 minutes, Lynne said, “I found it!” She printed it off and brought it to me. That’s what you see here. Perfect.
The words come from Paul’s letter to the Philippians. He wrote them to a congregation with whom he once had served. He wrote them to a congregation he still loved deeply. I share the words with you today.
“3I thank my God every time I remember you, 4constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, 5because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. 6I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.” Pilgrimage United Church of Christ, I will thank my God every time I remember you. Every time. All the time. Thank you. Thank you.
In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness. Amen.
Kimberleigh Buchanan © 2018