A big announcement

I remember when my father began the process of selling Yellowstone Air Service to a couple of young pilots. His businesses had become complex and he was working 14 to 16 hour days to keep everything running. The process took a couple of years. First he sold the agricultural chemicals application business with the associated airplanes. Then the forest service contracts, fire patrols and fish and game animal counts. Shortly afterward the airport fixed base operations were also transferred to the company he had sold. I was just beginning my academic career and my father was careful to have a conversation with me about whether or not I wanted to go into the flying portion of the family business. I was not leaning in that direction and did not think that it would be my life’s work. At one point my father said, I’ve been doing this for 25 years and we’ve had a good run with no injury accidents and we can make more money by selling the business than by running it.

At the time 25 years seemed like a very long time to me. I wasn’t yet 25 years old, so the thought of doing one job for 25 years was very impressive to me. I agreed that it was time for him to cut back from flying every day and sell the business to some younger people.

A few years later, after i had finished seminary, my father told me that he was selling the farm machinery side of his business. Once again he made the comment about having been a John Deere dealer for 25 years. “Twenty five years is enough” he said.

The Bible doesn’t make a big deal over the number 25. One of its favorite numbers to describe a long time is 40. The rains fall for 40 days and 40 nights in the story of the great flood and the ark. The people of Israel wander in the wilderness for 40 years. That is mirrored by Jesus’ 40 days of being tempted in the wilderness. Forty is a big number in the bible.

I’ve had the numbers, memories and stories swimming in my head for several months as I prepared for yesterday’s experience. Susan and I stood in the middle of the chancel of our church and announced that on June 30, 2020, one year from yesterday, we will end our calls as ministers in this congregation. it will be 25 years that we have pastored this congregation. It will also be nearly 42 years that we have served as ordained ministers of the United Church of Christ.

Since my first job, sweeping a feed warehouse every Saturday, I’ve never had a period in my life when I haven’t had at least a part-time job. I did take nearly three months off in the summer of 1978, after finishing my degree and ending my work with the Wholistic Health Care Center in Hinsdale, Illinois and before beginning as pastor of two small congregations in North Dakota. I had already secured the call to the churches before I put in my notice at the health care center, however. We traveled with family and made the move to our new home over the summer. Since then, I’ve always gone directly from one job to the next, not that I’ve changed jobs that often. But in each case, I’ve had a regular paycheck each month. One year from now, I’m going to be doing a whole new thing for me.

Of course it isn’t new to millions of other folks. Retirement is commonly accepted in the United States as a way to change the pace of one’s life and to make jobs available for younger workers. In partnership with the congregations I have served, I’ve been saving for retirement since my career began.

Still, it was a major announcement for me to stand in front of the congregation and tell them that I have set a date for the end of my call to this congregation and that I don’t know exactly what is coming next.

I know that I won’t mind a change of pace. Some days seem pretty long to me. I get tired more easily than was the case a few decades ago. I don’t accomplish as much as I once was able to do. I also know that I would like, for the first time since I became ordained, to be specific about where I live. We have always moved to the place of our next call to ministry. This time, we are being specific, wanting to live close enough to our son and our grandchildren that we can attend their concerts and plays and games as they grow into their teenage years. I like, for the first time, to be able to attend grandparents day at our grandchildren’s school.

There are, of course, many uncertainties. This is true for anyone who retires.

Our son, being the sensitive kid that he is and caring a lot about his parents, called me at the end of my work day yesterday. I was still at the church, just locking the doors when his call came. He was just checking in on me because he knew that i was going to make the announcement to the congregation yesterday. It was as I was talking with him that it sort of hit me what I have done. It is a big deal to me. I love my work. I love the congregation that I serve. But as my father said, “25 years is enough.” I don’t want to burn out on the job. I don’t want to overstay my welcome. I want to leave with enough energy and enthusiasm to discover what comes next in my life.

So I’ve made the announcement. I’ve launched a year of preparation and challenge. I don’t intend to be a lame duck. I’ve got some fresh ideas for worship and for how I work with volunteer leaders in the congregation. I’ve got a few goals for the year to come before I step into the pulpit for the last time. I don’t think God is finished with me yet.


Copyright (c) 2019 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!