And there are a group of seminarians - some who are even crazy enough to be readers here - who are winding up their year-long internships at churches across the country in the next couple of weeks. For a year, they have been part of the family (and part of the drama) of local congregations - and, I'm sure, have been woven into the fabric of their respective communities. And now the time is drawing near for them to once again be torn out of that fabric, and returned to school in Chicago.
For both Ashley and my former fellow seminarians, I give you these thoughts. They are part of a collection of writings from my adopted "dad" and mentor, Pastor Tom Housholder. Tom had been my biggest cheerleader in my quest for ministry - and he died the day after my candidacy committee aborted my ministry career back in April, 2004. I miss him more than I can say...
Shortly before he died, his wife Delphine published an assortment of Tom's reflections, ruminations, sermons, and poetry. Included in those writings is his retirement sermon, on February 5, 1995 - delivered after more than 35 years of ministry to a number of vibrant congregations. The last portion of that sermon was titled "How To Say Goodbye to a Church." These are Tom's words:
I don't know how to say good-bye to a church. How do you say "good-bye," "farewell," "we will meet again one day at the feet of Jesus"? It is not difficult - it is impossible.
You have been involved in their lives. For some, it has been too little - for others, too much. You are leaving with memories of a rich, dedicated staff. You are leaving the community where forgiveness is a given. You are leaving the community of Saints where we speak of life without end.
Baptisms, both children and adults. Shouting matches at the church council, problems only God can solve. There are a few with tears - and some are smiling too much for a farewell party. Great faith in a gracious God, and small faith in a great God - either will work. You are the greatest people on earth because God is loving you into greatness. I expect to hear a lot about this congregation of believers in the future. It is so hard to leave you - but we shall meet again at the feet of Jesus.
I can think of no better tribute to my friend Tom than if you might find some comfort - or inspiration - in his words. For my part, I still find great comfort in these words, and trust that others will, as well.