It’s getting to be time to say goodbye. This coming Sunday is my last at Amazing Grace before I take another call at a Spanish-speaking congregation near the border. I realize it’s relatively premature to leave Amazing Grace after only two years, and I greatly struggled with whether I should make this big transition or not.
In the long run, I feel this is a good move for me and for the wider Church. It’s good stewardship to have bilingual clergy in settings where those gifts are greatly needed. In the short run, however, it seems difficult for Amazing Grace. We have had quite a bit of transition and change in the recent years: a new pastor, new musician, building repairs, dwindling attendance, financial uncertainty, turnover with lay leadership. Just as the congregation is getting used to me and just as we’re in the slow process of gaining momentum and renewing focus, I leave. It’s tough because I was looking forward to working with some newer leaders on Council, and I’m enjoying cooperating with two other congregations for Confirmation. We’re just at the point where we need to do some visioning and planning for the future.
Yet, I am hopeful for Amazing Grace. As sad as it is to leave, I realize that I am opening up an opportunity for another pastor. All ministry is interim ministry. I've planted seeds that someone else will harvest. This is an opportune time for Amazing Grace to do some careful discerning and planning. Amazing Grace is a pretty resilient people. Strengths I see: Amazing Grace is a pretty friendly place; there is a welcoming spirit. Amazing Grace likes to have fun. Amazing Grace has the grace to live with disagreement well. Whereas a few families have transferred membership and chosen not to worship due to disagreement with ELCA policies, Amazing Grace has not had the major conflict and division that other congregations in our synod have had. This is a good sign!
What’s next at Amazing Grace? We’re in the process of saying goodbye. Last night, I had an exit interview with our executive committee and the conference dean. It was a helpful time to name what went right and what to try to do better in the future. I’m spending these last days doing some final visits, packing up stuff, and getting the office in order. We’re finishing up some paperwork (ELCA parochial report, membership records), and I’m writing a “turnover book” with some instructions for the new pastor. Council is meeting this week to interview a possible interim pastor. Liturgically, we will say goodbye on Sunday with a litany of thanksgiving for ministry that will include mutual benediction: I bless the congregation and the congregation blesses me. Also, in good Amazing Grace style, we have food—there’s a potluck Sunday at 12 noon.