Well, my dear Rothesay Vineyard, here we are again at a major crossroads. You've done it before and you can do it again. I didn't want to preach a sermon today. Instead I've decided to give a farewell speech. And I've written it out to make sure I say what I wanted to say, and not say what I didn't want to say. So here goes:
It always amazes me how things work in the Spirit. Weaknesses are really made into strengths. Problems are really made into solutions. Failures are really made into victories. Losses are really made into gains. The kingdom of God works nothing like the kingdom of this world. And I'm happy for this, because Rothesay Vineyard would have died a long time ago. Instead, you are alive, and, in my opinion, thriving!
Just a month ago, three huge problems were facing me that I had been struggling with for a long time. The first one was my own sense of feeling like I was an impostor. Believe me, I would've continued until my dying day as pastor of this church, but it was becoming more evident to me that I wasn't fitting. As time went on, I was feeling more uncomfortable in my role as the pastor of Rothesay Vineyard. I had to compromise too much. I am passionate to know what the truth is. Just like you, I want to grow and mature in wisdom. But my search was providing discoveries for me that I didn't feel free to express here. It wouldn't have been fair to you. So I was having to hide more and more of who I am. At first, this was okay. It is healthy and appropriate to have a private life. I started my blog, nakedpastor, to vent some of my spiritual explorations and discoveries that I felt were important. But my spirituality had grown to the point where I felt I could only express a sliver of who I am to you. Since I prefer to work relationally, rather than with the clergy/layman approach, having to hide much of who I am felt too artificial to me. At first the restraint was bearable. But it became too much, and I hated it. As we all know, change is difficult, and it is even more difficult WITHIN a relationship because it takes both parties to agree to it and change together. I was changing, to the point where the strain on our relationship had become too great. It had finally come to the place where who I am and what you believed me to be or what you wanted me to be was so vastly different that it had become irreconcilable. That was a huge problem for me.
The second problem I was wrestling with was Jon and Lyn Hallewell (Thankfully, people laughed here because this was intended as a joke). Not that they were the problem personally. It was a spiritual and pastoral problem for me. Just 4 years ago I received a phone call from Jon saying that he'd like to come and hang out with me and Rothesay Vineyard for a week. He'd been in touch with other pastors and they all lead him in our direction. He's that strange. He came over and we talked and talked, and he finally came to the conclusion that they were to move here. Three years later it happened. I had no clarity about what they were supposed to do. How were they going to live? Even though I was continually told that I shouldn't feel responsible for them, I did feel responsible. They had moved here with a strong sense of call for them here and for them at Rothesay. The sacrifices they made to be a part of our church family meant so much to me. Even though 4 years ago I suggested that maybe they were coming here to take over for me, it was never in my mind that this would actually occur. And it was never a serious thought for them either. But I still felt responsible. I worried about their burning question of why they were led here to struggle like they were. Why was this happening to them? How could I lighten their load and make them feel that their lives had meaning here?
The third problem was my concern for Rothesay Vineyard. As you all know, as I stuck to my guns with all the courage, strength and integrity that I have, we continued to lose more people than we gained. I had always asked for it to be made clear to me when it was time for me to leave. Many of you know that the last thing I wanted to do was cling to my role as pastor of Rothesay Vineyard until nobody was left except me with my pride. I wanted to know when my time and work here was done so that I could let go and pass the pastoral responsibilities on to someone more suitable to the task. Nobody here, except Lisa, knows the pain I was going through in my concern for this church. I knew that I was doing what I was supposed to do. But when was my ministry complete here? That's what I wanted to know. And then, one starry night a few weeks ago, it became clear. It was like a light went on. I had an amazing flash of clarity that my time here was finished. It was sudden, clear and astounding.
And immediately, as soon as this light came on, all three of these problems became solutions: my own personal struggle, the Hallewells, and the church. They all suddenly became the three ingredients necessary to cook the solution. I knew that me leaving my role as pastor of Rothesay Vineyard would liberate me to be who I am without restraint and to do what I am passionate about with freedom; I immediately knew that Jon would assume the role as interim pastor and their dilemma would vanish; and the church would experience a brand new and fresh season. It all made perfect sense. So, again, just like the kingdom of God, in the midst of my pain and sadness, I felt incredible relief and joy.
So, concerning my personal problem: I am free to pursue my vocation. I just don't know what it is going to look like. I made a decision to wait until this was over today before I started concerning myself with what I was going to do. I still don't know. I do know this much: I am a pastor at heart; I am passionate about the truth; I desire all people to be free from whatever binds them; I am interested in how to do real community in healthy ways; I want to find ways for people to be authentic, spiritual and ethical in this suffering world of work, business and finance. These kinds of things fascinate me. I will still blog and draw cartoons and do my art. But my primary concern is the spiritual health of individuals in their worlds. How this is going to make me a living? I yet have no idea. But we've done this before and we've always been provided for. If you want to know more, I am totally available to meet over coffee. Or if you're just curious, you can read my blog.
To do with Jon and Lyn Hallewell, suddenly it all makes sense. Their burning question, "Why have we been brought here?" is answered. They were handpicked from across the ocean years ago to help provide a smooth transition for Rothesay Vineyard. Their story is very much like Lisa's and mine when we moved here 15 years ago. The similarity is striking. I am so impressed with them. Jon and I have met so many times. I feel I know his heart and mind enough to say that he is a good man, humble, passionate about the things of the Spirit and the church. He is a real pastor. He's already proving that to so many of you. In many ways, he is just the kind of pastor Rothesay Vineyard needs to enjoy its next season. Jon loves you and cares for you. He loves meeting with you, listening to you, praying for you, and gathering with you. I really do believe that this church is already the apple of their eyes, at the center of their concern, and that they have already given their hearts completely over to you. They are already your servants. Jon and Lyn love and value this church, what it is, its history, its DNA, its values. I completely trust that they are perfect for the job of pastoring this church in its next chapter. And I can't tell you how happy and relieved I am about that. I'm at peace.
And now the third problem, Rothesay Vineyard: What a journey we've been on together! What a ride! Maybe one day I'll write about my 15 years here. Fact is stranger than fiction. Weirder than a Frank Peretti novel. I am so proud of this church. You are my boast. It is a beautiful church, a great community of wonderful people. I am so thankful for all you have taught me and how you have loved me and my family and cared for us. Jon and I have talked about you, and we agree that we have never seen such spiritual warfare over a church. Doug and Julia Mawer (also previous pastors who are still a part of this community) would concur. I can only assume it's because this place is significant. This is a special place with a special call. And it has been my pleasure and my pain to be your pastor all these years. You've fought hard for what you have. Now I only encourage you not to give that up. Don't give up an inch of the ground you've gained. Like someone once said to us: It is one thing to take the ground, it is another thing to keep it. We've taken ground and we've fought long and hard to keep it. Don't surrender it! I am quite confident that the Hallewells are going to take this battle ground and turn it into a gentle pasture for people to settle and mulitply. I am hoping to see you grow in numbers and for its life to become less tempestuous and its reputation more favorable. These are things I think you will see soon. In fact you're already seeing it.
There's a scene at the end of The Last Samurai where a samurai warrior, who has spent his whole life looking for the perfect cherry blossom, is dying on the battle field. Beautiful cherry blossoms are drifting down all around him from a nearby orchard. He sees them as he's dying and says, "Perfect! They are ALL perfect!" I know nobody's perfect. And life's seldom perfect. And things seldom work out perfectly. But, you know something? the way this is working out seems perfect. Right now my life is perfect. Rothesay Vineyard is perfect. And Jon and Lyn are perfect. They are all perfect. Just perfect!