Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen
On the table in my office sits a green canvas post-bound book containing roughly fifty years worth of church membership records. In the front, a list of pastors who have served here, with their dates of arrival and departure. Then, pages of records of members, most of them “former.” There’s a little more information on their pages – dates of conversion, marriage, enrollment, etc.
Today, the night before my “Farewell Sunday,” I took the book out and did my last bits of record-keeping. I put in the date of my farewell. I marked a few records with post-its for the next official review by the new pastors and headquarters.
There were two that I had held off on… two that I could have noted and removed months ago, but I couldn’t.
The first was the record for my friend Dave, who passed away just after Thanksgiving in 2012. Pastors aren’t supposed to have favorites, but if I’m honest, Dave was my favorite. Hairy and smily, always ready to go rounds with me over our football rivalry, he made me laugh. He was dedicated to the work he did at the church – if it was open, he was here. If not, he was waiting for someone to come open the building. He welcomed me like family, and I miss him. It was a privilege to officiate his funeral, but I couldn’t bring myself to note his record until today.
The second record belonged to his granddaughter, a beautiful young girl who knew too much sorrow before she was killed at the age of seventeen, just two months after Dave. She and I shared a love of Starbucks and tattoos, and she sided with me against her grandpa when it came to football. We sang pop songs together in the van on the way to camp and talked about boys. Her death split my life in two, and I think about her just about every day. I did her funeral as well, one of the hardest things I have done. Today, closing her record feels personal. Years from now, other pastors will just see a piece of paper with almost nothing written upon it. No marriage, no adult enrollment, no leadership positions held. But I knew the girl whose life was between those dates. Along with a few pastors who came before me, I get to be the one to say “she was mine – I knew the girl who lived.”
Praise God, it doesn’t end there!
The last two records I handled today were additions. Two sisters who have come a long way in the time I’ve known them now join their brother as members of our church. Young teens now, they were just enrolled a few weeks ago. For them, their records are exciting: a name, birth date, and junior enrollment date, beside which, I get to write my name as their pastor. For all the pastors who will come after me, I get to be the one to say “I knew them when…” Years from now, if they see their records, they’ll hopefully remember me. In the mean time, I get to hope for all that’s in store for them: marriages, adult enrollment, all kinds of adventures in life await them! I placed their records in last so that I was leaving on a good note.
It will be hard to say goodbye to people tomorrow, but I know it’s time for a new adventure for me, too. On the pastors line for me, all that’s there is my name and two dates. Nothing that speaks of the mountains I climbed while here, or how changed I am. Nothing in the book at all, unless you know the lives of the other records that bear my name: Dave, Becca, Angel, Jada, and Donald. They are where my story is told.