The United Methodist Church forces its pastors to retire at age 72, which is another eight and a half years in my case. I could, however, jump out as early as age 66. It's my choice, and I'm choosing not to choose at this point. But it's not too early for me to start musing on the subject.
My Grandpa Haworth, a preacher, occasionally announced that he would
never retire. He planned to blow right through his 65
th birthday and keep on preaching until he dropped. Ironically, he lived less than two weeks after he
could have retired and then suddenly expired of a heart attack.
My Grandpa Smith retired early, from Standard Oil, in 1959. He had nine quality years (of traveling, yard sales, fishing, eating, story-telling, and cracking jokes) before he was felled by a stroke. He lived another 13 years, but mostly depressed and mostly sitting in this rocker.
My Grandma Smith retired as a housewife when she had to leave her home for a convalescent center after she broke her wrist, and went from there to the nursing home. My Grandma Haworth retired when she was 27, forced into retirement from teaching because she had just gotten married, and female public school teachers in 1928 were required to be celibate.
My dad retired from ministry when he was almost 65, and my mom retired from teaching elementary school when she was almost 60. My parents have had a great retirement, still: usually enjoying good health, traveling the whole U.S. and even beyond to places like China and Germany, hosting family and friends, volunteering in museums and churches, learning to use a computer (sort of), wintering in Texas, and working with Marriage Encounter. They are my models.
Retirement for a United Methodist pastor means that a bishop no longer assigns you to a town. Bishops have been telling me where to go all my life, and I have always gone. And each place I was sent hosted a few folks who also felt compelled to tell me where to go, cosmically speaking. But in retirement, I can finally listen to other voices: like Bankrate.com, telling me to move to New Hampshire. It is supposedly the best state for retirement, if you can survive the winter. According to this website, I would also do well in such places as Iowa or Idaho. Illinois, sadly, is way down in 34
th place. So if I stay in my home state, I'll have to work a little extra to retire well.
The top two dictionary definitions of retire are: 1) to withdraw and 2) to go to bed. I usually get insight from my fat dictionary, but not this time. So, I turned to the internet for better direction. One website, "100 things to do when you retire" suggested shuffleboard, croquet, and knitting. Good Lord! If that's what's ahead, I'll just lie about my age and keep preaching till I drop.
Another website tallied the answers given by retirees to the question, "What is your
most time-consuming activity in retirement? The answers were: Spending time with grandchildren and family (36% of the women, 26% of the men), taking care of things around the house and yard (28% of the men, 25% of the women), enjoying things like golf and shopping and going out with friends (18% of the men, 16% of the women), pursuing hobbies (12% of the men, 8% of the women), volunteering in the community (7% of the men, 3% of the women), clipping coupons and watching where the money goes (7% of the women, 3% of the men.) No wonder we preachers have such a hard time coming up with something to say at certain funerals!
The Bible, of course, offers no help when pondering retirement, which was simply not a
thing back then. Methuselah never retired, even though he lived to be 969 years old. The old man evidently never knew the pleasures of clipping coupons in his old age, or collecting stamps, or taking care of his yard. Noah lived to be 950 and developed a drinking problem in his old age. Perhaps we would be able to tell the Sunday School children his
whole story had he instead retired from his vineyard and taken up golf in his later years.
Not getting much help from the Bible, I turn to the examples of U.S. presidents. The fact is, only two U.S. presidents led exemplary lives in retirement. Ironically, both were defeated when they ran for re-election: Jimmy Carter and John Quincy Adams. Sometimes our greatest contribution to others can be in retirement.
I did note that "retire" includes the word, "tire." This could refer to one's expanding midsection during the aging process. On the other hand, we could focus on the word "retired" as in, one is getting tired doing the same stuff over and over and needs a break. I made a list of the things that make me tired these days. On one hand, my word is easier than it ever has been. Thanks to the gift of experience, the school of hard knocks, and great teachers along the way, I can perform most of my tasks with much less fuss and energy than when I was younger. But I am more fatigued as the years go on, needing to change tasks frequently in order to keep stimulated.
Some things make me more tired than others:
- meetings that require additional meetings to clean up the mess made at the first meeting
- toxic anxiety in organizations that are pessimistic about their future
- palliative pastoral care that lacks any moment of transformation in the person being attended
- another Saturday night consumed with getting ready for another Sunday morning
- consumerism in the church which turns both pastor and worship services into commodities
I assume I will only get more and more tired of these things until I finally retire. And I assume I will have the wisdom to avoid them in my retirement.
There are some other things I am assuming about retirement:
- That I will be at last free from the bishop and cabinet telling me where to go
- That I will have more wife and less money
- That I will have to find my own place to live (no longer being given a parsonage) and that this will be both a blessing and a burden
- That I will have to work hard to set boundaries with others who will want my time and energy
- That I will have to be more intentional about money
- That I will have to have develop a discipline of setting apart large parts of the day when I become untethered from iPhone, computer, and TV
- That I will have to let go of more than half my books and many of my possessions, and that this will be both a blessing and a grief
- That I will discover some lost "loves," interests and ambitions that got lost during my long pastoral career
- That I will probably want to give more time to writing several books
- That I may want to starting a business taking people on "spiritual pilgrimages" around the U.S. (and world?)
- That I may want to garden, cook more intentionally, host friends more often, and maybe even try running a bed and breakfast
- That I may have trouble transitioning from being a "friendly pastor" to being a genuine friend...whose rare qualities have been distilled through years of being a pastor
- That I may have to find another way to maintain a healthy ego once that ego is no longer fed by my being pastor of a church
- That I may not find a church I want to attend
- That I will have to be more strict than I am now about diet and exercise...and that I don't need to wait until retirement to start that
- That the retirement is always a road to eventual death, and I need to find holy and hardy ways to face that
- That I will have new physical ailments as I age, some may lead to no longer being able to play tennis or softball, (although I'm better equipped than many people my age as I already have been through heart surgery, cancer, diverticulitis, five hand surgeries, two eye surgeries, appendicitis, arthritis, serious back injury...etc.)
- That I will never, EVER want to live in one of those age ghettos we call "retirement villages," no matter how luxurious and tempting
- That the hardest thing in retirement will be foregoing the dreams I have had all my life that require one to hold a pastoral office in order to fulfill
I'm continuing my list of assumptions, as I am starting to read narratives of others who have retired, and asking more pointed questions of those who have retired before me.
So many examples of retired people, what to do and what not to do; so many internet sites; so much advice; so many books and articles, so many assumptions to sort through...
Guess I'd better step up my pace: only 8½ years in my hour glass!
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