It’s Wednesday night. I’ve been stressing for a couple of weeks about this coming Sunday, my last as a pastor here – and as a pastor anywhere for the foreseeable future. What scripture is right for this kind of day? What word would God have us hear for a day of gratitude, of letting go, of opening to what new possibilities are in store for us all on the other side of this farewell? I want to be profound, of course. A sermon that will stay with them forever, move them to new heights, a sermon everyone will want copies of afterwards…oh. Right. This isn’t actually about me. It’s about God. About the ministry we’ve been given and shared and grown into, and about the Christ we’ve tried to follow on the streets of Santa Cruz and in so many places beyond. It’s about the ministry they’ll continue to grow into, the new life I’m stepping into, and the footsteps of Jesus we’ll all keep doing our best to find and follow.
I know the scripture now, the liturgy has been written, the band has been given the music, a sermon title discovered. And the word itself will come – God’s word, somehow, in my frail, human speech. And the word will come in the prayers we pray together, in Lori’s voice and in Art’s magic through the piano keys, the word will move into the air in Renata’s bow across the cello’s strings, Steve’s steady rhythm behind the drums, Stan’s centering bass and Brad’s lively horn. It’ll come, because this word, God’s word, is living and breathing and ever-present.
How grateful I am for that. And how grateful, really, I am for the grief. It’s profound, this grief of leaving Santa Cruz, of letting go of this church community. There will never be another Santa Cruz for us: the place and people with whom we began our marriage, the people who prayed – and still do – every day for our baby girl soon to come into the world. And it’s the church where I’ve learned what it means to give myself to this work, to this calling of parish ministry. I’ve poured my heart and soul into this place, and they’ve all given that and more right back to me. And the grief tells me it’s been worth every hard moment, every painful wrong step, every poorly chosen word – by them and by me.
Anne Lamott says there are really only two prayers: “Thank you, thank you, thank you” and “Help me, help me, help me.” She’s right. Thank you for Santa Cruz, for community, for friends to last a lifetime. Help me grieve and honor it all, and help me carry it with me when I go.