This is, perhaps, one of the mostdifficult tasks a pastor can face: writing a departure letter. Farewell, Aurevoir, Ciao, Sayonara, Auf wiedersehen, Adios … no matter how it is said,goodbyes can be tough. It is especially difficult when, in my mind’s eye, Ipicture your sweet faces peering at me from your “assigned” seats in thesanctuary!
When Jimand I arrived three years ago, many of you went out of your way to make us feelwelcomed. It was a gracious beginning to three grace-filled years. While they certainlyweren’t without challenges, both big and small (what three years of life ever are?!), they were years marked by change,blessedness, spiritual growth, and the goodness of God.
A whileback, I mentioned that I was reading Relaunch, a book on church leadership writtenby Dr. Mark Rutland. There is a great story in the book related to one of the manymoves his family endured due to his father’s long military career. Sometimesthey moved every year and, occasionally, more often than that!
Apparently, whenever they movedinto a new home, one of the first things his mother would do was make a flowerbed and plant colorful flowers. Mark witnessed this repeatedly and it botheredhim. Once, as they were settling into another new town and another rental home,he, yet again, watched his mother get down on her knees prepare the soil forflower bulbs. Annoyed by this, he asked, “Mother, why do you always do thiswhen you know that, in six months, wecould be gone?”
His mother replied, “It doesn’tmatter how long we’re here. I want to make sure that the flowerbeds are betterwhen we leave than when we arrived!” I really appreciate her attitude and hervision. She knew that, when they moved out, someone else would move in. In herown small way, she wanted to bless the incoming family by planting beautifulflowers they would enjoy.
I find this story meaningful because, like militaryfamilies, clergy families move more often than most. I believe pastors shouldwork with members to leave the “church flowerbeds” in great shape, planted withbulbs that will produce beautiful flowers intended to bring glory and honor toGod. Some of the bulbs will bloom early. Others will bloom only after that particularpastor is long gone. Whether the bulbs bloom early or late doesn’t reallymatter. In the end, it is never about the ones who plant the bulbs. It isalways about the One who created the bulbs and causes them to grow.
As I consider my imminent departure from Vanna, 1 Corinthians3:6-9 takes on new meaning: I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave thegrowth. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, butonly God who gives the growth. The one who plants and the one who waters have acommon purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labor of each. Forwe are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building.
While I am sad to say goodbye to Vanna, I takeheart in the knowledge that, together, we have planted and watered for theKingdom of God. Now, I will simply trust God to cause the bulbs to bloom and grow.
Even as I have been writing this,God has lifted up a song in my heart, filled me with praise, and put great joyin my spirit. I will share with you the song I keep hearing the Holy Spiritsing, because I know it is for you as much as it is for me. It is called Hymn of Promise and is found on page 707in the United Methodist Hymnal (ofcourse!). Since this is the last letter I will write, please humor me as Ishare all of the words to this beautiful song.
Inthe bulb, there is a flower; in the seed, an apple tree; in cocoons, a hiddenpromise: butterflies will soon be free! In the cold and snow of winter there’sa spring that waits to be, unrevealed until its season, something God alone cansee.
There’s a song in every silence, seeking word and melody;there’s a dawn in every darkness, bringing hope to you and me. From the pastwill come the future; what it holds, a mystery, unrevealed until its season,something God alone can see.
Inour end is our beginning; in our time, infinity; in our doubt there isbelieving; in our life, eternity. In our death, a resurrection; at the last, avictory, unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.
Only God knows the future he has planned for Vannaand for Jim and me. Surely, it will be revealed in the right season, in God’sperfect timing. Until then, I will pray for Rev. Ed Dickens, the pastor whocomes after me. I will trust and believe that the flowerbeds we planted andwatered together will, by God’s grace, grow into a “victory garden” ofincredible beauty. And, from the bottom of my heart, I thank you for allowingme the great privilege and honor of being Vanna’s pastor.
Blessings now and forevermore,
Rev. Dr. Lacey Bowcock