Meditation on Hebrews 12:1-2
Shared at First Presbyterian Church of Uhrichsville
Thank-You Gathering for Retired Pastors
Karen Crawford, The Presbyterian Church of Coshocton
Oct. 24, 2019
Hello, dear friends!
I am honored to be here with you today at this special gathering of pastors. My name is Karen Crawford and I serve the Presbyterian Church in Coshocton. I am here to say on behalf of the Muskingum Valley Presbytery, “Thank you for your ministry.”
I look forward to meeting you all and getting to know you better. I want to hear your stories. I have a few to tell you, too. I am new to this presbytery and to Ohio. In fact, this is my first time at this church. I am not even sure that I am pronouncing the name of the town correctly. I used my GPS to get here. And that can be pretty scary in Ohio to trust GPS, as you well know, where the shortest way to get somewhere may be straight up a dirt hill, in a forest, with fog and darkness rolling in and deer leaping across the road. Did I mention that I know this from experience?
This is what happened when Jim and I and our son, Jacob, moved here from Melbourne, Florida, in January, for me to accept the call to the Coshocton church. We were a caravan of three cars, three adults, and a dog and a cat, and had been on the road for 2 long days. We took the 541 exit from 77 north, instead of continuing on up to the Newcomerstown exit. Next thing I knew we were heading straight up a hill on a dirt road. I was driving my mini-cooper and was pretty sure that I was going to get stuck. My first experience with my new church was going to be calling a member of the PNC with a tractor to come tow me out. Well, we went up a hill, down, up again, wound around, and came to kind of a clearing. And there was this adorable little white chapel in the woods. Don’t ask me the name of the church. And I still have no idea where we were. Jim, in the first car, paused in front of the chapel, and I wondered why we were stopping. Later he told me that he was tempted to get out of the car, then, and announce to Jacob, “We’re here! This is your mother’s new church!”
Our adventures continue.
When Matt Sklonik told me that our presbytery was planning a lunch for retired pastors, I had two initial thoughts. One was, “Isn’t that nice?” What a wonderful presbytery to show its appreciation for those who have touched hearts and changed lives in ways they could never know. My other thought, when Matt asked me to come and speak today was, “I didn’t know pastors retired.” Every retired pastor I know continues to be faithful to God’s call to the ministry of word and sacrament long past what others might say was retirement age.
My husband, Jim, has been honorably retired for 10 years. When he told me that last night, I couldn’t believe it has been that long! But you wouldn’t know that he is retired. He is busy! He is sorry he couldn’t be here today. He is on his way to his high school class reunion in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. In his “retirement,” Jim has served Presbyterian and a few UCC congregations in Minnesota, Florida, Pennsylvania, and Ohio as interim or supply. He has preached and led worship for at least 5 churches in our presbytery since we arrived in January. He has been an active supporter of my ministry, assuring me of my gifts and calling, before I saw those gifts in myself. I wouldn’t be a pastor if he hadn’t encouraged and supported me. He has served with me in Florida as an unpaid parish associate, played guitar in a praise band and for my preschool chapel, taught adult Sunday school and assisted with new member classes, served as a liturgist, cooked and washed dishes for potlucks and helped to host dinners in our home. He remains active in presbytery and has worked on presbytery committees, such as CPM, Finance, and Council. In addition to supply preaching where we are now, he works 20 hours or more each week at the Coshocton library.
How fitting it is that we gather just a few days before Reformation Sunday, when some of us will read from John 8 and hear Christ’s reassurance that His followers will know the truth and the truth will make us free. This is the message I have to share with you today. We are still Christ’s beloved, you and I, saved by grace, through faith and not by our works, in case some of us might worry that if we are no longer working full time in a parish, then we are no longer valuable to the Lord and Christ’s Church. We are God’s handiwork and were created for good works that God has ordained. Those good works may be simple acts of kindness that the Spirit will lead us to do every day of our lives.
Yes, many churches are struggling today. We are not as big as we used to be, as a presbytery or denomination. We aren’t as wealthy as we used to be. The churches need us even more, but at the same time, have fewer resources to pay pastors and staff. Many of you have served smaller churches and have been willing to accept lower pay than you could have received leaving this area, because you love the Church and the Lord. This is a generous and gracious gift you have given and continue to give, those of you who serve, like my husband does, as interim or supply pastors, though you are technically “honorably retired.” But don’t small churches deserve excellent spiritual leadership, too? And doesn’t the call to follow Jesus as an ordained minister of word and sacrament last a lifetime?
We don’t know what tomorrow will hold. We don’t know the shape our ministry will take in years to come or the future of our small, but mighty country churches, ready to rescue new pastors driving minis, stuck on dirt roads in the forest, with fog and darkness rolling in. But we know that today, tomorrow and forever, we are a forgiven people, called to witness to the Kingdom of God by preaching justice, speaking up for the poor, hungry, marginalized, and oppressed, and sowing seeds of kindness and peace. Every day, we trust that our Savior has made his home in us and has a plan for us. We abide in him and he in us. And the Holy Spirit that is working to reform the Church of every age is still transforming each one of us, more and more.
My friends, God is not finished with you, yet! And in this presbytery, you are wanted and needed for your wisdom and experience, knowledge and faith, humor and encouragement as colleagues in ministry, friends, storytellers, teachers and mentors, sisters and brothers, fellow laborers in the Lord.
I need you, because I am definitely out of my comfort zone! And I want to learn from you and hear your stories of perseverance through difficult times for the church—because more difficult times lay ahead.
You have made a difference! You are making a difference. Thank you for sharing your gifts and talents, nurturing hope, faith, love, and grace. Thank you for shepherding the Church of Jesus Christ in times of sorrow and joy, growth and loss, brokenness and unity, conflict and peace.
The Cloud of Witnesses that has surrounded us is still calling to us, cheering us on to keep running the race that has been set before us, following in the footsteps of the author and finisher of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame. And has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.
May you be blessed by today’s gathering of pastors. May you be embraced by new friendships and strengthened by renewed friendships. May you be refreshed by the Spirit and encouraged in your ministry for the Lord.
Let us pray. Holy One, thank you for gathering us together in your name to show our appreciation for those who have served you and continue to serve you faithfully. Thank you for your love and forgiveness for us sinners. Bless those who organized this luncheon and prepared our food. Help us to always honor your call on our lives and never forget the cost of our salvation—the price of the cross—and the promise of abundant and eternal life with you. May we continue to listen for your voice and gratefully obey, guided by Your Spirit to serve with joy for all of our days. In Christ we pray. Amen.