June 12, 2021
When a pastor accepts a call to a church, and if he or she lives long enough, a letter such as this one is inevitable. At the Session meeting yesterday, I informed the elders that I will be retiring at the end of this year. December 26, 2021, will be my last Sunday in the pulpit at Nacoochee Presbyterian Church.
This decision has been a long and lonely discernment process. Our ministry together has been vital and life-giving. You have been very supportive over the years and I have always known of your love, respect, and support. Nothing has happened to change our positive relationship. Truth be told, the loneliness of making this decision is because I know that you would never push me out even as my energy for ministry diminished. This was going to have to be my decision and my decision alone.
The simple answer as to why I am retiring is that I sense my call in the full-time, ordained, pastoral ministry has come to an end. I have been in the ministry of Word and Sacrament for over 35 years, and the majority of that time has been spent right here. In many ways Nacoochee Presbyterian Church is my life’s work. I am very proud, maybe even sinfully so, of who we have been and who we are as a congregation. I am overwhelmed with gratitude for all you have done for me and my family. I am proud of you, of us, of all that we have done together, but my energy and passion for ministry has waned and it is time for you to have new leadership and for me to try something different.
Over twenty-four years ago Anne Forrest and I sensed that we and Nacoochee Presbyterian Church could have a partnership that would lead to good ministry and deep relationships. We also believed we would enjoy being a part of the wider community of Sautee Nacoochee, Georgia. We were right in all of these assumptions! In fact, the gifts of this place and our friendships are beyond what we could have imagined.
My plan right now is to fully retire and spend at least a year and maybe forever trying to write and have a few things published. I am under no illusion that I am likely to make any money in this pursuit, but the desire is strong enough to pull me in that direction. Anne Forrest will continue working at Rabun Gap-Nacoochee School and our children will continue in their pursuits at Rollins College and Carleton College. We do not plan to move out of the area.
(The fact that we will remain in the community presents challenges for a pastor and former congregation, and we will address those issues nearer to the time of my departure.)
I do want to say a few things about the timing of this announcement. It is unusual for a Presbyterian pastor to announce his or her departure six months in advance. I have decided that it makes sense for me, for us, to make my intentions known now. Here are a few reasons why I think so –
*One, we are a healthy congregation, and I am convinced this extended amount of time will allow us to properly grieve, celebrate who we have been, and give room for a vision to grow as to what is next for Nacoochee Presbyterian Church.
*Two, our relationship has been built on an unusual transparency; we have been honest with one another from the start. The idea of giving you a traditional six-week notice or even two or three months of notice never sat well with me because several months ago I made up my mind about retiring at the end of the year and I did not want to live with such a large secret looming over all my interactions with you.
*Three, these next six months can be used to begin thinking about the future mission of this congregation. You can make some progress in doing what is known in the Presbyterian Church (USA) as a “Mission Study” that will allow you to be a little ahead of the typical timeline for calling a pastor when I retire. Soon a small group of folks named by the Session will lead you in thinking about who we have been as a congregation and where we want to go in the future. I think these six months can be used to do some of the spade work necessary for calling a new pastor.
Finally, let me say that it would be quite difficult to overstate how much you have meant to me and to our family. We will always be grateful for our relationships here and the work we did together as a family of faith. For these next six months let us continue to enjoy one another, work together, and trust the tie that binds us in Christian love and friendship through all eternity.