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Sunday, June 7, 2009

No Regrets

Today Hubs & I attended a memorial service for a wonderful 97 year old woman who was part of our congregation where we used to be pastors several years ago. This was the first time we have been in the sanctuary since our “Farewell Service” in 2003. My feelings were mixed as we got ready to go; I was anxious to be in the little church again. The entire sanctuary could fit two times in the lobby of the church we are on staff with now. I have uncountable warm memories of my hours in that little building that I loved so much.

But I was also nervous about any “unfinished business” that some may still have with us. We were loved & honored by the people of our church for the ten years we tried to pastor & care for them, but there are always a few who will feel that you didn’t do enough for them.

On our first Sunday in the small & seriously neglected church we had a time of open questions. Hubs sat on a tall stool in the front of the room & agreed to answer any questions the quiet group of people may have of us. It was uncomfortably silent for a time, until one lady raised her hand barely above her lap & asked, “Pastor, how long will you stay with us?”

We had learned the history of this congregation before we agreed to move there & lead the church. In its 40 years of life, this little place had gone through almost as many pastors, who came & went within two years each. We were determined to love these people & care for the tumbling building as long as possible.

So my husbands’ gentle smile & words were a visible relief to all in the room as he looked at her & said, “Ruth, we are here to stay, we want to raise our boys here & we will stay as long as God wants us here with you.”

And we did that. I poured myself into that place with all I had. We began with the easy & obvious need; the old & ignored building. I cleaned out the most awful mess I had ever seen in the fellowship hall kitchen! Stuff had been sitting in old food & rust for a very long time. Hubs & I did a major clean out of the office records & marveled at the business meeting minutes that argued over whether purchasing an answering machine for the church office was really necessary or not!

The people joined us for several Saturdays of painting, cleaning & repairs of the building. These times of working side by side became a wonderful avenue of bonding & becoming true friends with a common goal. As the physical place began to perk up; the attitude of the congregation did also! They saw that they did have worth & value & they were proud to invite their friends back to church again.

My mind & heart are flooding now with memories of our 10 years in that church. It was a good & worthwhile 10 years. We did let people down over & over again, but we also helped a lot of hungry & hurting people & hopefully changed some lives along the way. Being the leaders of that small group of people, caring for them, advising them, laughing with them & celebrating important moments with them, was all-consuming to our family. My boys grew up in that church; they were only 5 & 9 when we moved there. We left when they were 15 & 19.

Our leaving is what caught some by surprise & was the reason for my trepidation to return today. (We did not leave under any horrible, scandalous circumstances, so you can relax about that as you read this account!) For a pastor & his family to leave a church is a painful & personal thing that I think may even resemble divorce to some extent. It is a tearing action that reveals the deepness of the roots & connections that have been made.

The signs that our time there was over, actually began 2 years before we gathered up the courage to do what we knew we had to do. I can honestly say that we totally gave the wonderful families in that congregation all we had to give them. There came a point when we had nothing more to say or do that would make a difference. Some ministries are all about getting bigger & having large numbers in attendance. That was never our central goal even though we did get to a place of having multiple services on Sundays & several house meetings during the week. We knew the value of quality relationships & believed we were living that every day.

Hubs & I both knew that we were doing the right thing & so did the majority of the congregation even though it was hard for them to let us go. But a few….and those few can cause your heart to hurt…..felt that we were abandoning them once again. There was nothing I could say to make them understand. It has been a painful part of remaining in the same town all these years. The unexpected grocery store visits can be uncomfortable for both parties. So, that is what was causing me some dread as we entered the sweet little church this afternoon.

But, I needn’t have worried. Today we were warmly embraced (well, warmer than expected anyway!) & thanked for coming to celebrate the amazing life of our 97 year old friend. Sitting on the back row & looking at the old cinderblock building with discolored windows & lace draped over the old upright piano was a sweet & comforting time for me. My family gave a lot to this place & we are still giving ourselves to people on a daily basis as we lead our ministry school.
I left there today with no regrets & with a huge smile on my face!

Here I am as a crazy-busy young pastors' wife running a church Christmas party! Nope no regrets!

6 comments:

  1. Hi,
    Thanks for sharing this-neat to read from a pastor's wife's point of view. I enjoyed your genuineness:) REFRESHING!

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  2. I'm glad that it went better than you expected. Making changes often leaves people with strange reactions and given your connection with these people probably even more so. I give you a lot of credit for following your heart and God's lead dispite the uncomfort that you knew would happen. God bless you both.

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  3. Thank you for sharing this! I don't think we (a congregation) give enough respect and support to our pastors. I have one in particular who I am anxious to share your post with.

    Blessings to you!

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  4. Love the post, you are a great writer and love hearing everything you have to share with all of us. :) I have a few awards for you over at my blog if you'd like to pick them up. :)

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  5. this is a great post- i didn't realize your husband was a pastor and i can imagine leaving a parish after all that time was quite a transition for everyone.

    i glad the day worked out for you both- sometimes we need to go back to go forward xx

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Brenda