Jean Larson

I’m retiring from parish ministry on November 9, and it feels a bit surreal. A friend suggested I find a theme song for the process, to keep me focused as I say good-bye to the dear people at church, as I dare to look at the grief that’s in me, as I anticipate the breathing space I’ll know on the other side.

I didn’t have to think long. A forever Beatles fan, I felt the unrushed beat and Sgt. Peppery mood before I remembered the lyrics: “You say goodbye and I say hello. Hello, hello! I don’t know why you say goodbye, I say hello,” (Paul McCartney, 1967).

Perfect! Hello, goodbye: mixed emotions with a good chunk of denial, yet somehow spiritually spot-on. This is my song. The good-bye part is clear enough. After 33 years in ministry, I know it’s time to go. Stress is hitting me deeper, stamina is waning, vision clouding. The folks in Bonner deserve fresh energy. Besides, it’s hard burying my friends.

But it’s been a good ride.

Ministry is so often a privilege. Praying with tough old men who know they’re about to die, who no longer worry about their tears. Greeting a newborn who was years in the making and getting to share a bit in her astonished parents’ joy. Being entrusted with the story of faith restored, with tears of holy joy pouring out in the back pew. Realizing that my best sermons are the ones I most need to hear. Catching a glimpse of outsiders realizing they’re in, by the same mercy that called me into this business in the first place. Oh Lordy! I am grateful and still amazed that the Spirit of God found a way for me here. Grateful and amazed and ready to say good-bye – all at once.

Yet ‘hello’ is being spoken, as well. I’ll be saying hello to an easier pace of life, more time to travel, visit kids, bug my husband, and ride my horse. I’ll be saying hello to more unclaimed space inside where the Spirit likes to play. And goad. This can be a bit unsettling, but it’s no surprise. Just when you think God is done, in the next-to-last chapter of the very last book of the Bible, God shouts, “Behold! I am making all things new!”

Yup. Goodbye to parish ministry opens up all sorts of hello’s, even to ministry in different forms. I’m in training to become a leadership coach for colleagues in ministry who get stuck or detoured or flummoxed. Can I be of use to them? Hope so.

A few writing projects beckon. Will I have the discipline to see one through? Hope so. I’ll keep writing this little piece now and then. Still, there will be plenty of time to simply be. Halleluia.

“I don’t know why you say good-bye, I say hello.” Sir Paul was being silly here. Good-bye is part of the deal. It’s a very important word to say clearly, gratefully, even tearfully. But it’s not the last word in God’s vocabulary. Ever. “Hellllooooo, I am making all things new!” Well, then, let’s see what’s next.

*Rev. Jean Larson is pastor with Our Savior’s Lutheran Church (ELCA) in Bonner. She can be reached at oslcbonner3@bresnan.net

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