I am approaching a transition in my ministry. I am about to leave the longest pastorate I have been in since my ordination just short of my 10-year anniversary. I have been at the Congregational United Church of Christ, Farmingville, NY for almost four years, first as pulpit supply and then as Interim Pastor. I have formed a deep relationship with this congregation. Here are my final thoughts to a great congregation: one that has grown in faith, numbers, generosity, hospitality and love.
How we exit a congregation is just as important as how we enter a new faith community. For my recommendation for saying goodbye and saying hello, see the article: Resources for saying Goodbye and Hello.
As I write this, I am remembering these words from Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 (The Voice):
For everything that happens in life—there is a season, a right time for everything under heaven:
A time to be born, a time to die; a time to plant, a time to collect the harvest;
A time to kill, a time to heal; a time to tear down, a time to build up;
A time to cry, a time to laugh; a time to mourn, a time to dance;
A time to scatter stones, a time to pile them up;
A time for a warm embrace, a time for keeping your distance;
A time to search, a time to give up as lost; a time to keep, a time to throw out;
A time to tear apart, a time to bind together; a time to be quiet, a time to speak up;
A time to love, a time to hate; a time to go to war, a time to make peace.
During our three plus years together, we have probably experienced almost everything on the list. I remember the baptisms, weddings, funerals, brunches, auctions, street fairs, Lenten studies, Christmas plays, singing, praying, preaching, fellowship, and friendship. I remember it all! There was some tearing down of old ideas and planting of new ideas, some disagreements and some resolutions, some remembering and some forgiving, We have collected car loads full of food and clothing for the Veterans and local Food Pantries, as well as, adding a new donation box for the Brookhaven Pet Shelter. We have laughed and cried, mourned and danced and ate way too many desserts and breakfast casseroles! But never too much carrot cake! We have said goodbye to beloved members who have moved or went onto the church triumphant and we have welcomed new people as well. We acquired a new electric piano, made the basement accessible, bought new hymn books and replaced the handrails on the ramp. We have survived raging storms, shoveled much snow and spent many more days in the sun.
Throughout it all, we have bonded and grown in wonderful ways while experiencing a great deal of mercy, grace, joy and love! The Lord has blessed us in more ways than we can count. The Lord has certainly been with us and has shown us that what we think is impossible, God makes possible.
I have always believed that a pastor is called to a particular place, for a particular time, with a particular purpose to a particular group of people in a particular community. We may have not accomplished everything that I had hoped for; yet still much was accomplished. It was always my intention and my covenant with this church and the New York Conference (United Church of Christ) that I would serve you in a particular way which included preparing you for your next pastor. The new pastor has been chosen and so it is my time to exit.
When Jesus prepared to leave his disciples, he found three promises to share:
- First, Jesus promised to make a home in his disciples’ hearts. (John 14:23),
- Second, Jesus promised to fill the disciples with a spirit of courage and comfort. “The Holy Spirit…will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you”. (John 14:26).
- Finally, Jesus promised to sustain his disciples with a special kind of peace. “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you” (John 14:27).
So as Mary Lindberg says (from The Graceful Exit), “So we’ll open the gifts Jesus gave us—a home in him, the courage to move on, the peace that will get us through many unknowns. And we’ll trust that God is staying with those we love for many more seasons.”
The thing you need to remember is that you will always be a part of me and I will always be a part of you. Thank you for all of your patience, kindness, mercy, grace, generosity and love that you have shown me! You are a great group of people and I wish you all the best in this new season that you are about to begin. May you continue to grow in faith, hope and love, worshipping the Lord with your whole heart, mind, body and soul and remember to do everything for the glory of God!
I thank God for you,
Rev. Kathy Nealand
- Resources for Saying Goodbye and Hello
- Pastor’s Letters
- Tools for Ministry
- Videos of Interest
- Inspirational Quotes