My last day as Pastor of The Hill Baptist Church is November 23 and so I am experiencing my last days here. I am looking forward to beginning my ministry at the First Baptist Church of Fitzgerald, Georgia on December 14 and I anticipate reflecting upon and writing about the early days of that experience. For now, though, I am thinking about last things—the things that I am experiencing for the last time here at The Hill.
Last night I led my final Wednesday night prayer study. A while back I decided that, since Wednesday evening in Baptist churches has traditionally been about prayer, I would focus my Wednesday teaching time on that subject. Lately I’ve been talking about the prayers of Jesus and what we could learn from them. I finished up last night with the part of Jesus’ “high priestly prayer” in John 17 in which he focused on future (from his perspective) believers. Next Wednesday I’ll experience my last Church Conference at The Hill and the following Wednesday, which will be my last Prayer Service here, I’ll share some personal words.
I typically do my nursing home visitation on Wednesdays. As I was visiting a couple of our nursing home residents yesterday it occurred to me that I was probably seeing them for the last time. There are some shut-in folk and nursing home residents that I will not get to visit again and there are a few that I will but in every case I will soon face the fact of “nevermore.”
Almost everything that is happening is happening for the last time here. On November 16 I’ll preside over my last observance of the Lord’s Supper. On November 19 I’ll eat my last Wednesday night supper. On November 23 I’ll conduct my last baby dedication. On that same morning I’ll preach my last sermon.
Everything feels so final.
Life and ministry will go on, of course; in my new place of service I’ll be preaching, visiting, and leading—I’ll be doing lots of the same things there that I do here. Hopefully, since a new setting brings with it the chance to do things in new ways, I’ll grow and adapt and change in the ways I do those things. I will do those things with different people, though, and that’s exciting.
But the source of the grief I feel is that I won’t be doing those things with these people. Make no mistake—there is grief. I know that God has called us to Fitzgerald and I am thrilled by the opportunity. I look forward to getting to know new folks and to serving alongside the members of that church family.
There is nonetheless pain in the leaving—and that’s good, because what kind of pastor would I have been here if I was not going to miss these folks? What would it say about the way in which I had shared my life and my love and my service if I had developed no relationships that I was going to miss? What would it say about the value of the last six years if I did not feel a sense of loss over the ones I am going to leave behind?
By the grace of God I have never been forced to leave a place of ministry; I have always left of my own volition and I have always left because I truly believed that I was meant to go to a new place and to be with new people. My career moves have always been much more about the sense that I have been called to go rather than about a sense that I have wanted to leave. There has always been joy and excitement in the going but there has always been sadness and grief in the leaving. But the way of life is that you can’t go without leaving.
It all finally comes down to people, doesn’t it? Ministry is about serving God and about following Jesus but ministry is always done with people and ministry always involves developing relationships with people. So even as I look forward to working with new people and to getting to know and love the members of another congregation and the members of another community, I acknowledge my sense of loss and my feelings of grief.
There is pain in the last things because there is grief in leaving people you love.
I wouldn’t have it any other way.