So it's Day 3 of my retired relationship as a member of The Memphis Conference. Some things I've discovered along the way - as it happens, vocational changes during a global pandemic presents as an insurmountable challenge. Over time, however, I've come to see it as an opportunity to remain engaged in the world to offer care as I can. How that all gets worked out is still unfolding.
I've spent some time looking back over the last year and the journey leading to this step. I know some of my colleagues don't understand. Some have conveyed disappointment in me, that somehow I've abandoned post. Others just want me to be ok, and I feel that. While not the reason I made this change, I do take some comfort in being in the final retirement class of The Memphis Annual Conference. The Memphis Conference is the place from which I was hewn. I am made from this ground. I am shaped and formed by the soul that lives between the Mississippi and Tennessee Rivers. While I have some life in the Tennessee Conference as a child and as a student pastor, I'm not indigenous to the culture that resides there.
I affirm the move toward making the Nashville Episcopal Area one annual conference. In fact, I'd like to think my work at the conference level between 2012-2018 helped pave the way. Although the new conference name? I don't know. Not that I have a better one but for some of us of a certain fandom TWK will never mean Tennessee Western Kentucky Conference. It'll always mean "The Wrath of Khaaaaaaannnnnn!"
I have some time and energy now to reengage this medium and to expand upon it. I'll be doing that both through the written word and through the creation of a podcast that will carry the moniker of this blog. Just because I no longer have a pulpit doesn't mean I haven't things to say.
For now, I'm revisiting what led me to retire from active parish ministry. And I'm sharing it as an example of one who's work toward recovery and wholeness pushed me to consider me. As one who identifies as codependent, historically such a notion is as difficult as, say, maybe finding a job during a pandemic!
Sharing my process will not be linear. But one must start somewhere. The following is part of the congregational letter I shared to announce my intentions to retire. This seems a fitting beginning.
January 14, 2020
To the “People Called Methodists” at St. John’s,
Grace to you and peace. I’m so thankful for who you are as people of faith. I’m grateful for your unrelenting witness for the inclusion of all God’s children in the Church, for your lived-out hospitality in welcoming all who come to you, and for your thirst for God’s justice in the world expressed in servant ministry. I’m stirred and shaped by the care shown those seeking to live in recovery. We all have a “God-sized hole” in our hearts. I’m ever more aware of mine.
I’m honored and amazed that my life has been intertwined with yours since 2001.
I write you today in gratitude and with a surprising peace as I share news about me and my future. In short, I am in my final months with you as your lead pastor. Upon the submission of a letter to the Bishop, I am requesting the retired relationship with the Memphis Annual Conference.
I’ve worked in the Church since 1983. I’ve served under appointment since 1987. On July 1, 2020, I will have accrued 31 years of service for pension purposes.
The decision to retire has its beginnings last summer in the New Mexico desert when I was asked if I’d ever thought about doing anything else in my vocational life. The truthful answer was no. It was not that I didn’t want to, I’d just never given myself permission to consider a life beyond the system and structure to which I’ve been bound. So, I gave myself permission, and it has been at the heart of my discernment since. I’ve consulted with trusted mentors, and I’ve listened to their counsel. The root wisdom I’ve received was to do that which gave my heart joy.
Since my reappointment to you in 2019, I’ve known this would be my final year at St. John’s. That together with the question of what I would do next, led me to a decision that’s at the heart of how my vocation is practiced. That is, I no longer desire to be bound by the itineracy. My entire life has been subject to the itineracy and the submission of my future each year to the discernment of my bishop and cabinet. I grew up in a parsonage. I took on that mantle myself.
The itineracy is a fundamental principle for United Methodist elders. I affirm that. And I’ve lived it or have been impacted by it for 55 years. I seek to be free of it for the last chapters of my active work life. There are other ways to engage the world, to try to make a difference. If it’s true that “for everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven,” then for this season of my life I’ve come to clarity that this is the most needful thing for me.