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Sharon’s Sabbatical Reflections August 18, 2014

Today I completed Bruce and Kate Epperly’s book, Four Seasons of Ministry.  I had read and excerpt of the book in the Alban Institute newsletter in January and decided then that I needed to get a copy.   It looks at the call to ministry from the perspective of the seasons.  While I found the sections on spring and summer interesting, what I really focussed on were the portions denoted at autumn and winter.  The Epperly’s are both on staff at Lancaster Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania.  This is a seminary affiliated with the United Church of Christ and the Disciples of Christ denominations.  Broadway Disciples United in Winnipeg is affiliated with the Disciples of Christ. This book has helped me create a framework for looking at the next two years.  I do not want to enter retirement as a shock or, as some ministers call it, a “spiritual crisis”.  Ministry is a call and vocation.  While it took me a bit by surprise back in my early twenties, God has lead me on a journey that has been marked by surprising blessings and opportunties along the way.  When I was ordained women were still  not common in ministry and each church I served had to ‘adjust’ to a woman in the pulpit—and sometimes a pregnant woman in the pulpit!  I did not have an agenda.  I was not a feminist in the radical sense that some of my colleagues were.  Instead, I have always operated from the position that God chose to call me and there must have been a good reason for that.  So I followed the leading of the Holy Spirit to show me the issues of faith that demanded my attention and gifts. If the early years were filled with ‘firsts’, then I am certainly approaching my ‘lasts’.  In between I remember some challenging years of been there/done that in ministry.  We are talking thousands of sermons, more than thirty Christmases, Easters and Thanksgivings, to say nothing of the hundreds of baptisms, weddings and funerals.  Bruce Epperly named this phenomenon in the autumn portion of the book.  This is when one tries to find novel ways to do things one has done over and over again.  When I reached that point a decade ago, I visited several older colleagues to seek their wisdom.  They assured me that what I was feeling was quite normal and urged me to grasp what Epperly calls; “passion for the possible”.  It means to dig deep within oneself to find spiritual initiative and creative transformation in order to find energy and newness within the patterns of the pastoral year. Those were the years when I struggled, as most adults do, with the pressures of being in the sandwich generation.  I found myself juggling almost grown children, a busy church and frail parents in another province.  What I remember of that time, looking back, is how I continued to function which such compassionate support and understanding.  I was so often exhausted and most certainly grieving yet I carried on.  This was the time period when I came to grips with some of the cold, hard truths of ministry.  I love what I have been called to do.  I feel such a deep and powerful affection for the congregations I have had the privilege to serve, but I am just me.  In taking stock I had to admit that I am not the best, most dynamic, most successful minister.  Now, before you think I’m going to get all maudlin, the news is good.  It is perhaps a measure of spiritual maturity that this is when I came to value what I think really matters.  When I look at my ministry the words that come to mind are grateful, content, blessed, privileged, honoured. This is why this ‘time of lasts’ is so important.  Life has been good….and it still will be good.  I want the coming to years to be marked by “leading while leaving”.  Epperly implores ministers not to be lame ducks once the retirement date has been set.  He urges that ministers and congregations work together to make this a time of vision and energy.  A couple of things remain true:  God will be with WPUC after I retire and God has a call for me beyond congregational ministry.  So, we have a few years to figure out what God has in store for us!  Sounds like fun to me! Blessings always, Sharon

Categories: General News, Sharon