In preparing to write my last “Glad Tidings” ‘pastoral epistle’, I remembered and revisited a sermon I preached back in September of 2016. What’s the Wake You Leave Behind? Because I have spent a lot of time in boats over the years, I enjoy the image it sets up in my soul!
Have you ever thought of the wake that gets left behind as you go through life? Sure you have… if not regularly, and intentionally… then you experience it sporadically and unintentionally.
In spiritual terms, this wake could be called many different things: what’s left in the wake of our witness? What is left in the wake of our of hopeful living? Is there a wake of loving-kindness???
“At the end of the day, we have an opportunity to take a look back and see if the wake of our work and witness, as followers of Jesus, has made a difference! “What are the results of what I’ve left behind…?” No matter what we try to do to explain why, or to justify what the wake is, it remains…
And what we leave behind is our record!
Also in our wake we leave our fingerprints and footprints of all of the relationships and encounters we share. We leave the effects of our interaction with people in their hearts, minds, and souls. So, it’s helpful to take a look over the transom of our living and ask ourselves. “What does my wake look like?”
I look back on my years at DCC and in the wake I see : a completely reshaped and effective staff, which has been built up and been reimagined and reconfigured more than a few times over my 7 years with you; I see strong and vital primary missions through ASP, Bridges, (Church World Service) Blanket Sundays, a relationship with our neighbors, Celebrate the Children (for autistic children and teens); I see strong partnerships in the community with Town Council, Police and Fire Departments, and involvement in disaster response after the town’s 500 year flood in 2011, following Hurricane Irene.
I also see and hear a refurbished and upgraded audio system in the sanctuary; new video/media capabilities which enhance our worship experiences; WiFi throughout the church and new media capabilities in our meeting rooms;
I see spiritual formation happening for our teens through the SEARCH Retreats under Janice McCrostie’s faithfilled leadership; I see spiritual formation retreats for adults through the Tres Dias experience;
I hear a reinvigorated music ministries with the hiring of YoungKwang Jun, our 4th music director in 7 years: and it has led to a revitalized worship experience; as a way of showing gratitude to God, we have also taken up an opportunity to work with Homeland Security to support and acquire a VISA status change to R1 – Religious Worker for YoungKwang;
We’ve refurbished church-grounds gardens and revel in the addition of a stunningly beautiful Butterfly Memorial Garden; working with Trustees have worked very diligently to create a strong investment strategy and protfolio, and so I see in the wake a solid financial foundation of around $2 million, (an unusually strong financial position) as well as healthy support of our General Budget; I see reroofing the education wing and then adding a Solar Panel array which will generate both energy and income for the next 20+ years; I recall demolishing the dilapidated Carriage Barn, replacing it with a safe and secured Steel Building; adding a beautiful walkway up to the parsonage, with safe and appropriate lighting; refurbishing the Church office, the Driesbach Room kitchen nook and then the complete makeover last summer, Irene’s Kitchen (our main kitchen in thee Education wing) and our downstairs meeting spaces (The Asbury and Jennsen Rooms); we’ve completely revamped on-the-cloud financial accounting system, through Quick-Books Online and Church Windows On, used by our treasurer and book-keeper;
I see a Staff Parish Relations Committee, having handled some very difficult staffing situations over the years, is now in the process of (setting up for success) transitioning from an older energetic male pastor to a young energetic female pastor, paving the way for a gender-justice witness to the United Methodist Church in the Greater NJ Annual Conference. Setting up a Hospitality response, with summer gatherings, and a welcoming task force!
What else do I see in the wake? I see a pastor who is retiring after 38 years of pastoral ministry, who is going out feeling like Simeon, (in the presence of the newborn Jesus at his presentation in the Temple following his birth to Mary and Joseph, ) when the Gospels records (in Luke 2)
“God, you can now release your servant; release me in peace as you promised. With my own eyes I have seen your salvation; it’s now out in the open for everyone to see: A God-revealing light to the nations…. And of glory for your people Israel”. Luke 2 (vss. 31-32)
I thank you for all the ways you have found to be supportive as I have shared my particular gifts and graces for ministry. I thank you for embracing the gifts Gabriele has shared and deepening her spiritual roots… I thank you for friendship, for your steadfast love and prayers during difficult family times, for lots of laughter and plenty of tears in good times and bad, for encouragement to seek out and pursue new visions for ministry, for engaging new mission opportunities while fully supporting established ones, and, not the least, for enriching my life with your love!
When I look back, most of all, I see love…. In the wake, under the surface, vast and beautiful!
As Gabriele and I pack up, wrap up the last of the church meetings, share goodbyes and well-wishes for life-together here at DCC, I would be remiss in not thanking Jean Nightingale, our office administrator, for keeping things humming each and every day, for continually offering me her unique perspective, having been engaged in DCC for several years, and for our friendship… and I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention how overjoyed I am that our Youth Ministries coordinator Janice McCrostie has been accepted to Drew School of Theology, on a full academic scholarship, pursuing a Masters of Divinity in Social Justice, and am grateful for our friendship… and that YoungKwang Jun has now graduated with his Masters of Ministry, a professional graduate degree from Drew, that may lead toward ordination as a Deacon in the United Methodist Church.
When I look back at the wake left behind, I feel a flood of gratitude and a deep sense of having pursued and fulfilled so many facets of my calling in Christ, with you by my side!
Deep peace… pure and glorious of a new sunrise on a new day on seas of life… Pastor Ed
Did you learn that song in Sunday School when you were little?
As a child I used to sing it with great gusto… but not long after I heard about this idea of “catching people for God’s kingdom”, I remember not liking the sound of it… nor the feel of it, either.
For me, there has always been something that seemed quite fishy about it! Catching people? It just seems an odd way to describe ways to invite people into the work of building up the work of God in the world!
Some folks still remember one of the first sermons I preached here in Denville, with fly-rod in hand… Here is one of the important ideas I shared 7 years ago.
I would like to suggest that if we are going to go anywhere with this fishing metaphor as a leading idea at all our for ministry… (as Jesus did); first of all we should be fishing with barbless hooks; and secondly, it should be a “Catch and release…” mission.
Every time I get ready to go out to the river, or to a lake or stream, or to the ocean… I have to make a decision… Will I catch and release today?… or catch and keep?
Catch and keep is the most popular type of fishing because most people want something to show others for their efforts… and lots of us like to eat fish. As I was thinking about how to use this fishing metaphor, I thought: Many churches and fellowships seem like they are into “catch to consume (others)” … “rather than catch and release (them)”!
The church-logic goes like this: We want to ‘catch’ more people because we want more money in the offering; or we need more teachers for SS; or the thought crosses our mind that soon there will be so few left to bring a tasty entrée to the next covered dish… or to serve us coffee fellow-ship! It can begin to feel like we are after more church members for our own purposes, benefit, our own use…
We have all seen churches that are good at this kind of ‘catch and keep’ kind of fishing. The logic from many people in the pews goes like this: “I don’t feel comfortable ‘catching people’ and reeling them in (to our congregation)… You catch them and reel them in, preacher! We will make sure to sit them down, we promise we will be really friendly, then sooner or later, a nominations committee will hook them and put them on a task group that squeezes most if not all of the enthusiasm and creativity out of them.. (and they’ll begin to flop on the deck like fish “out of water” gasping for oxygen!)
When Jesus called his first disciples to drop their nets and “come and see” what the kingdom of God was all about, he instructed them to “Catch and Release”. When Jesus spoke to Simon Peter about catching people, the word translated as ‘catching’ literally means to take them alive.
If we are going to reel folks in, or invite them to accept an invitation to follow Jesus, we want folks who are fully alive for the sake of the kingdom of God… and if we wish for them the very best… to be set free to swim where they are called… to become what God has called them to become… If we are to go about reeling folks in, it is simply so that they would meet this life-giving Jesus whom we know and love… then invite them to grow with us, spiritually, enriching our faith-community; then, The Spirit releases them to enter into something uniquely suited for them: Something into which God has called them uniquely and con-victs them to do.
“Catch… and release…”
As Jesus walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers — Simon Peter and Andrew. They were working as fishermen, casting nets into the sea, and Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people” (vv. 18-19). Notice that his initial invitation is not “listen to me,” “believe in me,” “bow down to me,” or “take a course in systematic theology” — it is “follow me.” Discipleship begins with walk-ing… laying down certain pre-occupations and accepting an invitation … when Jesus calls to your soul… saying “Come and See”… it is to a life of love in a sometimes cruel, unloving world… it is to a life of justice-making in a world that is way out of balance… it is to a life whose goal is creating peace in a world torn up by war and violence and disinte-gration…
Ours invitation is: barbless, catch and release, “Come and See”, be set free, get in on the creative purposes of God…
As I prepare to swim up river, into the uncharted waters of retirement, let’s live into our promise to keep following Jesus, with renewed vigor… going with the flow of the river to live the life to which God calls!
Deep peace, cool and clear of God’s flowing river of life, to you…
I am indebted to The Rev. Myrlene Hamilton for her ideas in a great little book, entitled: “All I Need to Know about Ministry I Learned from Fly-fishing”