(This is my upcoming column for the Minister's Corner in the Shawnee News Star, Saturday August 29th)
“The world is round and the place which may seem like the end may also be the beginning” Ivy Baker Priest
Í wanted a perfect ending. Now I’ve learned, the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next.” Gilda Radner
Four years ago this week I moved from Iowa to Oklahoma to answer United Presbyterian Church’s call to serve as their minister. I moved ahead of my family so I could get started at the church and begin the arduous task of finding a house for us. Although I had planned to make the trip in one day, I got started later than I intended so I ended up spending the night in Wichita. The first day of the trip I was so excited at the new prospects and possibilities that lay ahead, I wouldn’t allow myself to think about all that I was leaving behind. But sometime in the night, perhaps in my dreams, my mind knocked down the defenses I’d built. I could consciously choose not to think about who and what I was leaving, but my subconscious would not allow it. I woke up in the morning so homesick and heartsick I could barely breathe. I refused to get out of bed, because I knew that if I got up too soon I would pack up my car and head straight back north. So I lay there until I finally found the courage to continue south to my new church, new town and new life. It was probably one of the hardest moments in my life.
Obviously, I did finally get up. I drove south. I started at the church, I found a house, my family arrived, and here we are. The personal changes that have happened in our lives in these last four years have been enormous; some of them wonderful, some more painful than we could have imagined. But I am grateful for these four years, for what I have learned, for how I have changed, for every moment I have experienced. That goodbye four years ago closed the proverbial door, but it also opened the promised window to something new.
If you are a regular reader of this paper, you already know that our congregation is in the process of closing a door. We are leaving our building at 330 N. Beard Street. Housed in this grand and stately building are memories and ministries that span more than a century. This church is not just historic it is history, living history. Yet while the memories of this place remain vivid, the building itself is crumbling. Its age is showing. As a congregation, we do not have the means to slow or reverse the aging process, so we have made the decision to say goodbye. Our last worship service in our sanctuary was last Sunday. Tomorrow, and for all the foreseeable Sundays that follow, we will worship at our new location on 114 E. Main Street.
This may be a necessary goodbye, but necessity does not diminish the pain at the leaving. What will become of us? What happens next? We can make informed guesses about our new place of worship and our new life as a congregation, but we cannot see into the future. We know that we face a great unknown. At this moment, we cannot fully imagine the next stage of our story. Yet what I find so amazing about the people I serve is their trust that our congregation’s story is not ending. This is merely a plot twist. My folks are faithful, and saying goodbye to this building is a faithful response to God’s continuing call. This goodbye is heart-wrenching. It is painful. But it is faithful.
So we are closing a door, and we are leaping out in faith, trusting that there is new ministry and new life ahead. We are closing a door, but if you walk down Main Street, you’ll see that the windows of our new home are wide and welcoming. God be with you, or as we say it, goodbye.