My final message during internship, given at Holy Spirit Lutheran on August 7.
How do you say goodbye to someone you love? Five days ago, on Tuesday morning, I spent three hours sitting in front of my laptop, searching for a theme, an angle, a metaphor, anything, to help pull together what, for me, and hopefully for at least some of you, has been quite a year.
And after those three hours of internet searches, coupled with more than one glance to the heavens, trying to find that magic elixir that would pull together this message I had nothing. Zilch. Nada. Nothing. Feeling frustrated I headed to lunch. On the drive over to the local Subway it hit me, this question, I mean really, how *do* you say goodbye to someone you love? The message this morning is an attempt to do just that. No guarantees. I still haven’t figured this out yet, and never may.
You’d think I’d be better at this. One year ago, almost to the day, on August 9, 2015, I said goodbye to my home congregation of five years, St. Michael Lutheran in Wellington. That, too, was hard. And, kind of surprisingly, it doesn’t make this goodbye, after only one year with you, any easier.
We knew, you and I, that our time together had a certain starting and ending point. That’s how internship goes, it’s usually a one year gig. Yet that knowledge, that certainty, that hope of closure hasn’t made it any easier for me to get my head around. Perhaps you feel similarly.
It would have been so much simpler if this year had been rather ho-hum. I could have said bah, the year is done, I’ve paid my dues, now it’s to move on to bigger and better things. And it would have been *really* easy if it’d been a truly awful year, filled with strife and conflict and unmet hopes. In that parallel universe I could have simply thrown my hands in the air and said GOOD RIDDANCE! Thank goodness that awful mess of a year is done.
But our time together has been none of that. It hasn’t been ho-hum. It hasn’t been awful. It’s been, well, fairly amazing to me. And met or exceeded my wildest dreams. All that is to say, this fairly amazing year has made this goodbye, to someone I love, you, the people of Holy Spirit Lutheran, really, really difficult.
So, with this starting point, of the difficulty of saying goodbye, I went back to the internet, in hopes of finding how other wiser, smarter people have said their goodbyes. After reading over 300 goodbye quotes from the interwebs– the first link had 229 of them – I found a couple that spoke to me, that in some way describe this goodbye, between you and I.
“Why can’t we get all the people together in the world that we really like and then just stay together? I guess that wouldn’t work. Someone would leave. Someone always leaves. Then we would have to say good-bye. I hate good-byes. I know what I need. I need more hellos.” ~Charles M. Schulz
“Promise me you’ll never forget me because if I thought you would I’d never leave.” ~A.A. Milne (of Winnie the Pooh fame)
After hitting the internet, still trying to figure out how to say goodbye, next I headed back in time, to search ancient scripture, to see if there were clues there on how best to do this. If there is any mere mortal in scripture that figured out how to say goodbye well it has to be the Apostle Paul. He wrote up to thirteen of the letters of the New Testament, and each one of them was to a community he’d either lived and worshiped with or hoped to visit soon. These were communities he knew, wanted the best for, and loved. My personal favorite goodbye from Paul’s letters is at the end of 1 Thessalonians chapter 5, we heard that text read earlier. In this goodbye Paul encourages; he gives us seven tips, phenomenal advice on how to live the good life – the Christian version of the good life.
First Paul implores us to rejoice always. We rejoice here on Sunday mornings in our worship, it’s great. Let me encourage you to take this rejoicing with you, to your homes, your work, your play. In all things you do, rejoice. Next, pray without ceasing. This seems almost impossible, but in the message I gave six weeks ago you heard one way, to do just that, by using an evening prayer, the Daily Examen. Give thanks in all circumstances, Paul suggests. That was a central theme from the sermon series you heard this past month from Pastors Frank and Steve. What do you do when you’ve done all you can, and life is not turning out how you’d hoped? As crazy as it seems scripture is clear: give thanks in those moments too.
Fourth, do not quench the Spirit. We covered this, together, you and I, recently as well, just last month. When the Holy Spirit calls you to the dance floor, and asks you to put aside selfish ambition, to set aside your need for control, and instead let her take the lead, the next part is easy: simply Shut Up and Dance.
Do not despise the words of the prophets, Paul continues, but test everything. This is a tricky one. Perhaps that suggests we should be open to new voices, new outreach, new places the Holy Spirit is asking us to go. You do this well, continue to seek this newness out. Finally, hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil, Paul concludes. Deep down we know, what our faith deems good, and what evil lies in wait to keep us from this goodness. Hold fast to this goodness. And celebrate the Christian version of the good life that comes with it.
Reflecting on the Past
So we’ve heard about goodbyes from the Apostle Paul, even Charlie Brown and Winnie the Pooh, but you may be asking yourself, that’s all well and good, but how do you, Pastor Ryan, say goodbye?
One way is with stories, to reflect on our time together. Internship is all about learning, at least ideally; here are four things I learned these past twelve months.
(1) Try on costumes early. (And really, what is it with having your intern wear so many costumes? While here I’ve been an Easter bunny, a Thing, Batman, and was even asked by Pastor Frank to strip and change wardrobe right up here, in front, one Sunday morning). This was a rather unfortunate learning, to try on costumes early, tho certainly an important one. This Spring the Pre-school held a snuggle up to reading event and invited the Pastors to serve as guest readers. Cool, I remember thinking, this will be fun. Even better we were encouraged to wear a costume if we fancied. Before I knew it Maureen Lay produced a Dr. Seuss Thing 2 costume her daughter Olivia wore for Halloween the year before. It was a size medium, which isn’t too far from my current size large frame, so I *assumed* that would be just fine.
What I didn’t realize was this was not a men’s size adult costume. Was it sized for women? Or for youth? I don’t know. What I do know, is that, when I first tried it on, all of 10 minutes before reading time, well, it barely fit. And showed various folds, nooks and crannies that most days are not something I typically display in public. The show went on, of course, and there were more than a few chuckles, perhaps even a gasp or two. My hope is any photos or videos from that evening have been properly disposed of. And if not? Well, that’s probably good blackmail material. Lesson learned, try on costumes early.
(2) The Holy Spirit really does hover over the water. And no, we’re not talking about when Pastor Frank had me hover over the dunk tank water while your children threw balls at a target to, well, dunk me, tho that happened this year too. I experienced this Holy Spirit hover, right over the water, with many of you, on the Juno Beach Pier, first during the Christmas Eve Eve service, and then during two Easter Sunrise services. What an amazing experience it is to celebrate the birth of Christ and then later his resurrection, right there hovering over the Atlantic Ocean, among God’s creation of sea, sand, and sky. Among sunsets and sunrise we worshipped, together, celebrating all Christ did and continues to do for us. These pier memories will stick with me for many years to come. You are a truly blessed people to be able to celebrate these moments in such a picturesque setting.
(3) God’s children need care. I knew this before, you know it too, but taking a trip to Haiti this year was a reminder of how important this work we do, in the name of Christ, really is. This Spring I joined Pastor Frank and 10 medical professionals, including our pharmacist Kelly Parra and our dentist, Dr. Chris Ricker, for a weeklong trip. We brought much needed medical and dental skills, equipment and prescription medication too, and while there treated over 700 patients at an area church and school. Each day brought new challenges, new opportunities, new healing. Each evening the team gathered for devotions to reflect on all these moving experiences.
Members and friends of this congregation sponsor 80 children at the Village of Hope school in Haiti. That’s just a huge number for a faith community this size, you’re definitely plugged in to this effort. A highlight of my trip was seeing a mother bring her nonverbal four-year-old daughter to the clinic and request prayer. After praying together the child was seen by one of our doctors for further diagnosis and a referral. That moment, of prayer and medical care, sums up the purpose of these trips: doing what we can to heal one little corner of a broken world, all in the name of Christ.
(4) Finally, I learned that God is at the bar. Getting the church out of church buildings, and into the community is a passion of mine, and something I was just dying to try in new ways this year. Many of you were interested too, and together we did things like bible studies at a sports bar, and attended offsite gatherings with names like Beer & Carols, Mardi Gras Beer & Hymns, Baseball Beer and Hymns and, finally, Bar Church. We did two of those. To pull any of this off takes a lot of support, faith, and conversation. And then you need musicians to really pull it off in style. So thank you to the pastors, the staff, the council, the dozen musicians that have been involved and all of you for continuing to be open to this; together we shared some success, we created some energy, we had some fun.
But, more importantly, we brought the church to the world in new ways. Over 200 people attended Bar Church last month, a mix of HSLC members, friends, and the bar community from Brewhouse Gallery and the Kelsey Theater. And together, these blended communities did church, singing together, praying together, hearing a message together, supporting a domestic abuse shelter together, taking communion together. Our culture and our faith communities are evolving, and evolving fast. Churches are not part of the fabric of society like they were 50 years ago, or even 20 or 10 years ago. From the bottom of my heart, thank you, for taking risks with me, to reimagine one shape that church could take in the coming years.
Looking to the Future
So what’s next? Tomorrow morning I fly to New Orleans, to be part of the ELCA’s national assembly over the next five days, and learn about the inner workings of our denomination. I’ll also network some, with the goal of landing a great first call congregation; you know, like this one.
This Fall, I’ll be back home, in Loxahatchee, which is just west of Wellington, and will take a couple of last classes before graduating with a Master’s in Divinity in December. I hope to preach once a month or so in other local congregations. I also plan to visit other faith communities, to try and glean new ministry ideas that could come in handy in the future.
And then there’s September 28. That’s the day the ELCA refers to as “Fall Assignment.” I’ve submitted paperwork on types of faith communities and geographies our family feels called to. Congregations looking for a first call pastor fill out paperwork too. And then a group of 40 people that includes Bishops, regional and seminary representatives, and people from the national church get together and review this paperwork, gathering on September 28, and assign graduating seminarians to one of 65 synods in the US.
Kathi and I hope to land at a larger congregation that isn’t too rural, so we could literally end up anywhere in the country. Which is both exhilarating and terrifying. Once you’re assigned to a synod the Bishop connects you with a congregation and interviews begin. And then there’s call committees, councils and congregational votes, all those exciting steps this congregation went through last Fall to call Pastor Steve. This first call, wherever it is, could start as early as January 2017. Our family will take any and all prayers about this, particularly on September 28. So thank you in advance for that.
So what about your future? Where do things go from here? From what I’ve seen of Holy Spirit Lutheran you’re in for one amazing ride. After a three year search you’ve found an associate pastor, Steve Winsor, he’s super fun to work with. Pastor Frank is amazing, as always, my sense is he’s still got a bit left in the tank, don’t you think? You do amazing ministry here, both locally and internationally, it’s exciting to see how much you impact the world around you. The strategic planning survey, focus groups and retreat weekend led you to four initiatives, that, over time, will enhance your communication, expand your ministries, expand campus building space, and help you transition leadership of many key roles here at HSLC in the coming years. You can be sure Kathi and I look forward to keeping up with you from a distance, by Facebook, email and websites, whether we land nearby or migrate north to some distant land.
Help From My Friends
So how *do* you say goodbye to someone you love? After struggling to answer that this week I’ve decided I can’t. I don’t know how. This year we have done so much together, we have laughed, cried, dined, sang, grieved, communed, talked, travelled, and yes, on occasion, drank together too. We’ve praised our Creator and Savior in the high times and the low, and everywhere in between.
And in those times, somewhere I realized what had happened. In this year you and I became something. We became friends. You and I have become good, good friends. Your friendship, support and love have had a tremendous effect on me; never discount that. You have made this year what it is.
So if it’s ok with you, your intern pastor would like to close with a bit of song from the pulpit, one last time. The song is from the Beatles, you may also know it as the theme song from a 1980s tv show: the Wonder Years. It has indeed been a Wonder Year.
What would you think if I sang out of tune,
Would you stand up and walk out on me.
Lend me your ears and I’ll sing you a song,
And I’ll try not to sing out of key.
I get by with a little help from my friends,
I get by with a little help from my friends,
Going to try with a little help from my friends.
What do you do when your love is away.
Does it worry you to be alone?
How do you feel by the end of the day
Are you sad because you’re on your own?
No I get by with a little help from my friends,
Oh I get by with a little help from my friends,
Yes I get by with a little help from my friends.
Do good work,
Keep in touch. Amen.