“So long, farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, goodbye.” With those words, the children said good night to the partygoers in the Sound of Music. Today I join them in that refrain as I say goodbye to you as your pastor.
When it comes to preaching your retirement sermon, what should you say? I could have gone with Moses’ final message in Deuteronomy, but Moses dies at the end and that didn’t seem right. I thought about using something from Revelation, so I could expound on the subject of eschatology. While that might work, it might take too long to get to the main point. So I turned to Paul’s closing words in his second letter to the Corinthian church. In these verses, Paul offers words of encouragement and blessing. This seems like a good way to close out a ministry.
Since Paul likes things to be done decently and in order, the first thing he does is tell the Corinthians to “put things in order.” That sounds like a good word for a season of transition. One reason I announced my retirement early was that I wanted to give you time to prepare for the future while I was still around to help. Now, COVID hijacked some of these plans just a few weeks after I announced my plans, but I do believe the congregation is better prepared for this transition. Even as you have been working on things in preparation for my departure, I’ve been doing the same thing. I’ve been tying up loose-ends, moving books, going through files, and cleaning off the computer. Most of that work is done, though I still have a bunch of books that need to find good homes.
After Paul tells them to put things in order he tells them “agree with one another and live in peace.” Being Disciples, we prize our freedom to form our own opinions about religious matters, so this might be difficult to fulfill. Nevertheless, you will need to seek consensus as you discern where God is taking you and who will help take you there. That process has already begun with the calling of Glen McIntyre to be your interim minister. In the end, as you discern God’s vision for the congregation, you will experience peace and joy. That will lead to ministries of God’s shalom in this community and beyond.
If that wasn’t tricky enough, the next word might be even trickier. You see, Paul tells them to “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” Since a kiss can mean different things to different people, and with COVID still with us, we will need to find alternative ways of showing love for one another. Normally, I would suggest that we share a holy handshake, but maybe a holy fist bump or elbow bump will have to suffice for now. Although, if you’ve been vaccinated, maybe you can get away with a holy hug.
I want to add into Paul’s farewell message a word of thanksgiving. What I share here builds on the words of thanksgiving I shared last Sunday. Since we could be here all day if I thanked everyone, I came up with a representative list.
I’ll start outside the congregation with Cindy Stewart, the Community Affairs Director at the City of Troy. Cindy has been a friend since we arrived and she’s been helpful to me and this congregation in many ways. So, Cindy serves as a representative of the Troy community.
Then there’s TIG, which I spoke of last week. I could name many people who mean much to me from TIG, but I’m going to thank Padma Kuppa since she was the one who got this group going and drew me deeply into local interfaith work.
When it comes to sharing ministry in the community, I’ve had many partners. Some have moved on to other ministries, some have retired, while others are new to the community since I’ve arrived. I value their partnership, but since I need a representative person, I’ll acknowledge Charlotte Sommers. We shared in the leadership of TIG and worked to bring our congregations closer together. She retired before I did, but the relationship between our congregations remains strong and has grown to include other congregations.
Of course, I must thank our Regional Minister, the Rev. Eugene James. Eugene is not only my pastor but he is a dear friend. There’s a whole story about how we met and what came of that, but that’s for another time! So, thank you Eugene
My ministry has been enhanced and sustained by our staff. I’ve worked with Pat the longest. He came on board six months after I arrived and we’ve been working closely together ever since. It’s been wonderful! Then there’s Rick who has been a confidant, partner in ministry, and a blessing to me in ways I can’t express fully. More recently, Susan came along and helped enhance our education programs for youth and adults. Finally, there are the three office managers with whom I’ve worked. Penny, Sarah, and Linda not only kept the office going these many years, but each of them became a friend and like Pat, Rick, and Susan, they have been my partners in the ministry of this church.
Now comes the difficult part. How do you single out just one person from the congregation? I love and value every one of you, but since I needed a representative person I chose Alice Bishop. It’s been a decade since Alice died but here’s why I chose her. You may have heard this story before, but when I arrived Alice was filling in for two weeks while Linda was on vacation. During those two weeks, Alice taught me everything I needed to know about the church, including how to lock and unlock the back door! Every day when I came in, Alice had a list of things to go over. From that moment until she died, I knew I could count on her to be there for me, my family, and the congregation.
Finally, I come to Cheryl and Brett. Ministry is a rather unique vocation when it comes to the family. Not only is this my workplace, but this is our family church. That means both Cheryl and Brett have been integral parts of my ministry. Cheryl served as an elder, a deacon, a Sunday school teacher, and as a member of the outreach committee. Brett ran the soundboard and even taught bible studies. They experienced both my highs and lows, and they will accompany me on the next leg of our journey. I don’t have the words to truly say how much I love them.
Paul closes his letter with this word of blessing with which I concur: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you.” And to these words I will add the words of a song from yesteryear:
Happy trails to you, until we meet again.
Happy trails to you, keep smilin’ until then.
Who cares about the clouds when we’re together?
Just sing a song and bring the sunny weather.
Happy trails to you, ’till we meet again.
Some trails are happy ones, Others are blue.
It’s the way you ride the trail that counts,
Here’s a happy one for you.
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall, Pastor
Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
June 13, 2021