Last Friday evening our family spent a wonderful evening with the Sycamore congregation and some special friends as we remembered more than two decades of time together. With a lovely banquet dinner prepared by the fabulous cooks at Sycamore, we enjoyed a night of viewing pictures, hearing such things as the church's history recounted and testimonies, and listening to the children recite our theme verses. At the end we were presented with three special gifts: cards and letters testifying to the love we share in Christ; a beautiful stain glass piece designed by Susan Spiegel that came from some of the church's old windows and had the Sycamore symbol in the center; and the amazing drawing of the church building by Natalie Thoman that accompanies this post. Quite a few tears were shed, as parting with those you love is such a sweet sorrow.
Yet many of the tears came from laughing so hard. Another part of the evening was spent roaring with laughter as Greg Fisher read a masterful story as the narrator "Libelous Slander." He wove together facts with creative fiction to poke fun in a good-natured way at the quirks we share as a congregation. Having told a few of these stories myself over the years, I responded with the short story below, not a true one but awfully close, to express my thanks as well as my confidence in the future of the church.
And to be honest, having blubbered through reading to them a resignation letter a few days previously, I had to use some humor just to get through a response!
The old pastor sighed as he taped up the last box and hefted it up to carry to his car. The day was drawing to a close and shadows were beginning to darken his study. The room, emptied of books and furniture, looked like his heart felt – sad and empty, yet with faint echoes of happy memories floating about. All that was left now were a few items scattered about on his desk. The old pastor thought upon how little it seemed he had done over all his time here, remembering the words of Luther recently read: “The life of the devout is strenuous running, …(and) it may seem to be crawling. To us, of course, it seems that everything is moving ahead slowly and with great difficulty.” He glanced out his window, thinking he would even miss the view of the trash-filled alley. His heart leapt a little as he thought of how soon the new pastor and family would be living behind the church and ministering to the brokenness in the neighborhood. The new guy would be able to stand right there and look out the study window to see his children at play in their backyard. Yet the old pastor let out another sigh as he breathed a prayer, still wondering if things would be able to run without him. Just that moment the silence was broken, as the associate pastor, Jason, charged into his office. Smiling to see his friend, the old pastor set down the box. Breathless, wearing that “I’m-on-official-police-business” look, Jason asked, “Hey, did you see the guys out there dealing drugs?” “Uh, no, I was just looking out the window and didn't see a thing. What are you talking about?” “That guy, driving a 2010 CXL Buick Lacrosse, powered by a 200-horsepower, 3.8 liter, V-6 engine, with automatic climate control, satellite radio and a power driver's seat, pulled up to a 2010 Mercury Mountaineer with 4.0 liter, V-6 engine, automatic transmission, and all-wheel drive (still gets up to 14 miles per gallon in the city and 20 on the highway), and handed him a bag. I’m sure the other guy in the Mountaineer, which had third row seats, traction control, and 16-inch alloy wheels, gave the Buick guy, with his satellite radio, some money. You sure you didn't see that? “Uh, no, Jason, I didn't. I think I saw a blue car…” “No, neither was blue, though the Buick was a turquoise green with urethane paint. Well, I jumped in my car, tracked the guy in the Buick – did I tell you it had seventeen-inch Chrome Tech wheels? - to his apartment and took a picture of him with my I-Phone. I put it on Facebook, then called the cops. Hey, that’s the third time this week I've called them,” he added with his little boy chuckle. “Well, that’s great, Jason. But I did want to ask you about the session meeting agenda next week. Not to look over your shoulder, you being the new moderator now and all, but when do you plan to get it done?” “Oh, it’s already done, Jenny’s got the minutes copied in triplicate, and I’ve asked Shawn to do devotions on '36 Things a New Pastor Should Never Do.' I thought that would be good starting point for him. Anything else you need? No? Okay, see you. I’m meeting Jacob for lunch at Salad-riffic.” As Jason left, the old pastor thought, “Well, that takes care of the administration of the church. But I wonder how the elders will do without me around, with shepherding and all?” Seeing his cell phone on the desk, he looked at his screen and noticed he had missed a call from Dr. Bob, who had left a voice mail. A little pressed for time, he knew this message would be short. Bob never seemed to lose his “interested but direct” bedside manner. Even when Bob had written a note of encouragement to them on their twenty-fifth anniversary, he had complimented the pastor’s wife on her “mild continence” rather than “countenance.” Bob’s voice came through the message. “Hey, know you’re busy. Just wanted to let you know that Greg and Tom both had the new family over this week, Scott’s helping Jason with the event in Marion, I’ll visit your mom this weekend, and Joe’s praying for it all. Bye.” As he hung up, the old pastor began to think perhaps the church could run fine without him. Then he remembered the academy, and all the years he had spent with it. A fear rose up in his mind, as old worries about the finances and thoughts about how to peddle Speedway cards without breaking the Lord’s Day rose again. He also started wondering how classes would go next year. Just then, he noticed a note on his desk from Zachary. Picking it up, he read: “Hey Pastor, before I head off to Australia just wanted you to know that we ended in the black this year for SCA. The new pastor has submitted his syllabus already and it looks topnotch. Jenny’s got the schedules and everything else printed in triplicate. Pam, Sharon, and Susan worked out a plan for study hall, where the students bow before the monitor then accept duct tape across their mouth. Just kidding about that last part. Have a good summer. We’ll miss you!” Sticking the note in his pocket, he bent back over to pick up the box again but was stopped by a knock at the door. In came Ron the deacon. “Hey, let me get that for you! Don’t want you to throw your back out again like you did before the Father and Son b-ball game!” As Ron grabbed the box and started down the hall, the old pastor tottered along. After some years of caring for the grounds, he complimented Ron again on the nice way the lawn looked and the new flowers he had planted. “Hey, did those special just for the weddings, Pastor. By the way, your son’s wedding went well last week. Heh, that was great how you asked your son to take the bride for his ‘lawfully wedded husband.’ That was a hoot! The bride was not the only one blushing that day, eh?” “Yeah, Ron, it was a bit embarrassing. Not sure who laughed louder, you or my brother. Anyways, thanks for making it look so nice. Now, about helping the new pastor move in…” “Don’t trouble yourself about that, Pastor. Sam’s caring for his move into the office, Robert’s coordinating his move into the house, and Austin’s making sure we’re all getting paid. Ha! You just concentrate on your weddings and move. We’ve got everything under control so you don’t need to worry about a thing.” The trunk of his car slammed, Ron told him to call if he needed anything, then got into his van and sped off. As the sun faded and the street seemed strangely quiet, the old pastor stood there, looking at the stained glass of the building colorfully catching the last bits of the evening light. Just then, as if the congregation was inside singing God’s praises and he heard a strand, the words from the psalm “with honey from the rock I would satisfy you” floated across his mind. The old pastor knew that despite the slowness and great difficulty of ministering in this city, the Lord had kept covenant by bringing forth a sweetness at Sycamore only the Spirit can produce. Praying it would remain so for generations to come, the old pastor stepped into his car and drove away.