A time of endings

As retirement approaches, it makes sense that some of my ideas about my career are definitely “old school.” I remain convinced that ministers are not ordained to rule over people, but rather chosen from the midst of the people to serve. While preparing for ordination was a rigorous process in my case, I don’t think that the degrees I earned in any way separate me from the work of everyday Christians. I grew up in the church and received a call to the ministry. I followed the prescribed path of preparation that included a 4-year undergraduate degree and a 3-year masters degree, all earned while in residence. I completed internships and earned a professional doctorate. I was examined by a committee on ministry composed of representatives, both lay and clergy, from several different congregations.

I have never viewed my ordination as an honor that places me above the people I serve. I was, rather, called to pursue ministry full-time as a vocation while other Christians are called to pursue ministry part-time while earring their living from other sources. As such, I have believed that just as we ask the members of our congregation to volunteer, so too, I am called to volunteer. Alongside my professional career, I have tried to be an eager volunteer within the church, giving time and energy to church projects above and beyond what might be considered full-time work. In addition, I have been active in community organizations, supporting the communities in which we have served congregations. Over the past 25 years, I have served on the corporate boards of a dozen non-profit organizations that serve our community. I’ve participated in arts organizations, service organizations, and other groups. I’ve attended more fund-raising events than I can count. I’ve served as chaplain to service clubs and law enforcement. I’ve donated a portion of my income to those organizations and tried to be a servant not only to the congregation, but also to the community.

Although I intend to continue to serve the community after I retire, because our retirement involves a move to another state, it has made sense for me to end my term of service in a variety of community organizations. I set the end of May as the date to complete that service. The last few days have been a time of making my exit and saying my farewells to Black Hills Works, The Front Porch Coalition and the Pennington County Sheriff’s Office. I have a lot of friends in those places, some of whom I will not see again in this life. The organizations have been extremely gracious, offering me gifts and special recognition as I depart.

Of course new leadership will emerge in the places I depart. When I don’t answer the phone call, others will and life will go on. The agencies are remarkably resilient and their service will continue under the guidance of many capable volunteers.

Still, there has been a bit of sadness as this particular chapter of my life draws to its conclusion. I didn’t anticipate how much emotional energy it takes to say good bye to so many good people. And none of us could anticipate the impact of a pandemic on the process. There have been a few virtual hugs where actual hugs might have taken place. There have been a few fist- and elbow-bumps where we would have shaken hands. There have been a few video conferences where meetings would have taken place. I have been quite able to take all of that in stride.

I know I am growing older. The aches and pains I experience are different than what I knew when I was younger. My stamina isn’t as high as it once was. I have more trouble completing some tasks. But I also know that there is still plenty of service left in this old body. I intend to go straight to discovering new paths of service as soon as we have accomplished the move. It has been very reassuring to me to think of this as a kind of sabbatical. I’m taking a few months away from service to examine my life and set new directions. I’ve had sabbaticals before, but each of those has included the focus on return - to the same congregation - to the same areas of service. But we have moved in the past. I have said good bye to good people before. I have made new relationships with organizations and service groups.

I woke this morning with thoughts of a whole group of very good people with whom I’ve been privileged to serve over the years. My Sheriff’s Office duties have put me in the midst of quite a few young people just beginning their professional careers. My time at Black Hills Works has placed me next to people with different abilities and disabilities. The Front Porch Coalition has introduced me to some incredible people whom I met on the worst day of their lives. The congregation I serve is filled with people of all ages and walks of life. Those people have provided me with models of service. Some of them have been models of what retirement might be like. I’m going to miss the level of contact I now enjoy with those people.

Monday is a new month - the last of this phase of our lives. In fact, because we are taking two weeks of vacation at the end of June, we’re really down to just two weeks. I haven’t counted the number of meetings, but it isn’t very many. Things are winding down at the same time that the work load of cleaning and sorting and moving is winding up. My office is complete chaos of packing boxes, but the file cabinets are empty and the books shelves are nearly so. My desk will probably be the last to be cleared out.

This journal will probably be focused on the process of saying good bye and preparing for a move for a few weeks. I know my emotions will be close to the surface for a while. I’m fortunate to have writing as a way of expressing myself. I’m even fortunate to have a few folks who read what I write.

Copyright (c) 2020 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!