This week marks the end of our pastoral relationship. As you know, I have heard and accepted a call to serve as interim pastor of the Westminster Presbyterian Church in Charlottesville, VA. Sunday we celebrate our shared time, say our goodbyes, and Ruthie and I will depart for Virginia. I begin my new call on Tuesday. I will preach my first sermon next Sunday, October 19. I conduct my first memorial service next Saturday, October 18.
When I left the church I served for 16 years to come to BMPC, I titled my final sermon Departing. Upon hearing that sermon title, the congregation’s music director, Steve Henley, said to me, “Departing, boy could I talk about that.” Steve has seen many pastors come and go in his long service as a church musician. Then he added, “You know, there’s nothing unusual about departures. A newborn departs his mother’s womb to enter the world, children depart home to go to school, and persons depart one job to take another. Life is full of departures.” And of course he’s right—even if some departures are more memorable than others.
I don’t think I will ever forget the departure of Chris, our first born, for college. There we all were—Ruthie, our son Chris, his younger sister Elizabeth, and me—all fighting back the tears. Then Chris walked in the dorm and the other three of us got in the car and departed for home. Two years later, when it was Elizabeth’s turn, Chris was already at school, Ruthie and I had been at parent’s orientation for two days, and I think all three of us were ready for the departure, already!
Departures can be a time for reflecting on times past. That prolific letter writer of the New Testament, the apostle Paul, frequently called on the recipients of his letters to remember what he taught them and what he had preached before he departed from them. At times he remembers his previous congregations with deep affection. Other times he calls them to task for failing to follow through on promises made. In every instance, Paul seeks to interpret his ministry within a theological context.
I could not begin to summarize our shared ministry in a few sentences, much less interpret theologically our brief time in the long history of this great congregation.
What I can do, what I want to do, and what I must do, is simply remind you of what you already know: the deep affection I have for this congregation, and the Christian love I have been privileged to share with you. This has been a good time for me and for Ruthie, and I hope so for you as well.
Now as we depart, we do so in the knowledge that neither time nor distance can break the bonds which unite us. As we go our separate ways, we do so confident that the God who called us together, calls us to go forward in service to the Christ who makes of us one body with many members.
God’s blessings be with you!