For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven. I have decided to take retirement next summer. Thus, on July 1, 2020, I will enter a new season of my life.
The three personal questions for retirement are always when, where, and what. Having decided the "when," I've now got a little over six months to decide the "where" and the "what."
Where to retire is a good question. Some people retire to the golf course...or Florida...or Arizona...or to a retirement village...or to the couch in front of the TV. Others hit the road and pursue all those places they are finally free to visit. Most people, however, do not have to find a new house when they retire. But pastors who have lived in parsonages all their lives (like me) need to find a new abode. The parsonage here in Mattoon is very large...but the new pastor will NOT be happy if she or he gets to town and finds me still squatting here. I'll only have until mid-June to vacate the premises.
Jie will continue her part-time ministry in Sidell and Chrisman, (assuming the bishop assigns her there for another year) but the parsonage there doesn't belong to us either. And so we are currently looking for a place in the Champaign/Urbana area that will accommodate us.
I have never owned a house. So this is a new adventure for me...and a little scary. What if I make a bad decision?
It's not like preaching a bad sermon...just wait a week and come back with a better one. A bad choice on housing can't be corrected so easily.
Since my dad is a pastor, I've always lived in church-owned or controlled housing. And while I've gotten stuck in bad houses before, it was never my fault. Those misfortunes were due to poor decisions on the part of some church trustee board. And when I've gotten stuck in a bad parsonage (only once growing up...and once in my own ministry) all I needed to do was wait for the bishop to send us to a new church. But now that I am about to pick out my own place to live...I'm becoming keenly aware of all the mistakes I could make.
As to what to do in my retirement: years ago I saw a cartoon featuring a woman who was musing about her husband's retirement. The caption read, "I now have twice the husband and half the income." She did not look happy.
I've been thinking for several years now about what to do when I retire. For a long time I thought I'd just keeping on doing what I've always done: find a smaller church and continue in pastoral ministry, work with new pastors coming into the system, spend more time building up ministry among Chinese who are living in the United States, teach, and lead pilgrimages. But all that has changed over the past year.
I have come to realize that I can't be open to what God wants me to do in this new season until I let go of the many things that have so consumed me in the past long season of my life. The writer of Ecclesiastes says that there is a time for every purpose under heaven.
The heavenly purpose of my life can be summed up in my call to ministry. Retirement will not alter God's purpose for me. It will, however, take me off the front lines, bless everyone with some detachment, and give me a role more appropriate to my changing strengths. As we age, we decline in some areas of strength...but grow in new areas. We go from strength to strength in the service of God's heavenly purposes for this earthly life.
I no longer have the types of strength to do continue doing some of those pastoral chores that once came so easily to me. Just as it would be outrageous for me to continue living in this Mattoon parsonage after the new pastor moves in...so it would be immoral of me to continue to hang on to an important position in the church when someone else has more strength, energy, and fitness to do the job. I am fatigued after nearly 48 years of pastoral ministry. It is time to serve God in a fresh way.
And so there are two things on my immediate agenda. First, I plan to write. These Sunday letters will continue after I retire...and I hope will improve. And I hope you (my readers) will continue to let me share a few minutes each week with you through these writings.
I also have a novel I am writing. Novels demand an entirely different skill set than anything else I have ever written. What makes for a delightful blog...or a meaningful sermon...or an insightful biblical commentary, would be entirely intolerable in a 250-page novel. I have a novel started about a young pastor who gets disillusioned in his first church...and has to find his way through that crisis. And I can't wait to introduce readers to some fascinating characters in the book. But I won't be able to do much on it until I retire.
There are three other writing projects I have already started, all non-fiction. I'll continue to work on those as well.
Active pastoral ministry is hard on families. And so my retirement will also be a time to be more present for everyone in my family: my parents, wife, children, grandchildren, siblings, nephews and nieces.
And retirement from the active pastoral ministry is healthy for friendships as well. It is really hard for people in a church to be friends with the pastor of that church. There are so many issues that force people to take sides...and so many people who need pastoral attention...that friendship with an active pastor is difficult. I look forward to simply being a Christian...to loving people because of who I am...and not being burdened by expectations people place on me because I have a pastoral role to fulfill.
So...that's my news today. The congregation here at Mattoon will get a formal letter in the mail tomorrow...letting them know what they can expect over the next several months as a new pastor is selected for them and appointed by the bishop. In the meantime, please hold this church in your prayers...my family and friends...myself...and all the people I will soon be free to serve...in about six months.