During worship today, two letters were read. Both were written by me. They were read to two different congregations. One was written to my beloved Holy Trinity in Charlotte. May 15 marks the 11th year of my first Sunday with them, to the day. Like this year, it was Pentecost 11 years ago, too.
In my first sermon at Holy Trinity, I talked about how most of the people who were going to become a part of our faith community weren’t with us yet. That turned out to be true. Today, when I placed communion bread in the hands of all who came to the altar, I thought about how the overwhelming majority of those hands weren’t present with us when I began my ministry at Holy Trinity. Over the past 11 years, the Holy Spirit has been actively calling, gathering, and enlightening those who make up our congregation today.
I can’t begin to tell you what this congregation has meant to me. I have always loved the people I’ve served as a pastor, but I’ve never felt loved in return the way I've felt it from them. Because of their love, I’ve blossomed as a pastor and as a person. That’s why it was so difficult to read my letter to them at the end of worship:
When I came to serve you 11 years ago, we had no idea where God was leading us, but we trusted that he would guide us along the way, and he has. Now God is leading us in a new direction. Over the past year, I have come to realize that I have accomplished what God sent me to do at Holy Trinity, and the time has come for another pastor to move forward with you.
I have always sought to be open to the Spirit’s call. It’s what brought me to serve as your pastor, and I have never doubted that call in the time I’ve been with you at Holy Trinity. In the same way, now the Spirit is calling me to serve another congregation. No one could be more surprised by this than I am. I did not seek this call, but it found me, and I am convinced it is of God.
On July 11, I will begin my ministry as senior pastor at Ascension Lutheran Church in Towson, Maryland. My last Sunday at Holy Trinity will be June 19. Between now and then I hope we will have the opportunity to honor and celebrate the ministry we’ve shared through the years even as we express this difficult good-bye.
It’s painful to leave the church family I’ve grown to love and the deep connections I’ve had with so many of you. Please know that this isn’t easy for me. Although endings like this are a kind of death for us, we can rejoice that our God specializes in resurrection. I look forward to seeing what God has in store for you and for me in the years ahead.
This is the thing I hate most about being a pastor. It’s my calling to love the people I serve, to form deep relationships with them, to invest myself in the community without holding back. And yet, I’m temporary. A time always comes when I walk away and another person walks in to take my place. It’s brutal. I wish there was a way I could take dear friends from Charlotte, colleagues from the NC Synod, and most of all the people of Holy Trinity with me. But that’s not the way it works.
Also this morning, God’s saints at Ascension in Towson, MD, heard a letter I wrote to them:
On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit swept over Jesus’ followers like a mighty wind, and they were never the same again. As we worshiped together on May 8, did you feel the Spirit moving among us? I certainly did. It was a morning of apprehension, expectation, and excitement. For me, it meant finally meeting the congregation that I have been learning about over the past few months.
The more I experience the people of Ascension, the more I realize what an extraordinary congregation you are; I am beyond humbled that you have voted to call me as your next senior pastor. Your vote affirms a call from God that has become clear to me through the process of discernment with your Call Committee. With joy and gratitude, I accept that call.
I look forward to the adventure in faith that God has in store for us together. Although we can’t foresee where that adventure will take us, I’m trusting that God with guide us along the way and great things will be accomplished for the Reign of God through us.
Despite my eagerness to join you in Towson, bringing closure to my current ministry and relocating my home will take some time. I plan to begin serving with you on July 11. Until then, please know that you are on my mind, in my heart and most certainly in my prayers.
Every emotion I’m capable of feeling has been thrown into a blender. At any given moment, I’m in a shock, I’m grieving, I’m giddy with anticipation, I’m scared, I’m delighted. It’s all there. Lately, there have been days when I’ve wondered if I may be going completely cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs. At other times I’m convinced I can’t do this; I’m tempted to pull the plug on the entire process and retreat into my safe cocoon. But by now I have a track record with this sort of thing, and I’ve learned that this is how it feels when I’m being called by God to step out boldly in faith. When God opens a door and invites me to walk through it, I can’t refuse. To me, that would be like slamming the door in God’s face. And the thing is, whenever I’ve walked through a door that God has opened for me, I’ve never regretted it. I know this is one of those times.
And so, today in worship, two letters were read to two congregations God has called me to serve. One is as familiar to me as a cherished book I’ve read so many times that the cover is worn off, and the other is a rare edition I have yet to crack open. One has become a part of who I am and the other pulls me toward who I have yet to become. One has led me to the other.
To some people, the letter I wrote to Holy Trinity may read like any resignation, and the one I wrote to Ascension may sound like a typical letter of acceptance. But to me they are so much more than that. They are love letters. And I hope that’s the way they were received.