1062 Autumnwood Dr, Winnipeg, MB R2J 1C7  (204) 256-8792

Sharon’s Sabbatical Reflections August 20, 2014

Today I read Mary Lindberg’s, The Graceful Exit.   She is a Lutheran pastor who served in congregational ministry as well as a writer and chaplain.  As much as anything, I was drawn to this book by the title.  When the time comes, I want my departure to be done with as much grace as possible.  This is the kind of wisdom that is born of experience and time.   When I was young my Dad affectionately referred to me as “Little Dynamite”.  Perhaps it was because I was always fighting with my natural shyness that I seemed to ‘explode’ with drive and energy.  People responded positively to good work, ambition and creativity.  The accolades fueled the actions in a closed self-generating system.  At least, that’s how it worked for a long time until events in my life left me less ‘in control’.  I learned the power of gentleness and vulnerability.  I discovered the deep satisfaction of refocussing the priorities of life from me to others.   God has disclosed to me the profound blessings of walking with grace.  Journeying at ‘grace-speed’ is a bit of an irony for someone like me who likes nothing better than shifting into sixth gear and jamming down the accelerator!  Grace-speed is a lot like walking speed.  It means going slow enough to notice things along the way–people, sites, little tidbits of news that get missed when we are in a hurry.  Grace-speed means having a conversation without having a fixed agenda in advance—to listen with openness for the depth and meaning of human interaction.  Grace-speed means remembering the little details that are the glue in relationships.  In her book Lindberg talks about leaving a congregation as the experience of communion.  In place of the traditional words of Jesus, “Do this in remembrance”, she suggests, “Don’t forget me, okay?”.  I’ve learned later in ministry the value of not forgetting.  There was a time when ministers kept detailed cards in  a box of every family in the church.  On those cards would be the details: names, addresses, dates, etc.  Often what followed would be the handwritten notes of one minister after another with the minutae of the family’s life.  It was a shortcut to intimacy espoused in countless pastoral care courses that I gave up decades ago.  Instead, I stopped, I asked and I listened to the stories of the people God has called me to care for.  Lindberg mentions this in the first section of her book, recalling a professor who said all pastoral conversations should begin with: “Tell me your story”.  Grace-speed allows me to slow down and gather in the memories of all the conversations over the years.  It’s part of knowing and being known in this relationship of minister and parishoner that is so rich and poignant.Obviously,  I am spending my sabbatical time contemplating my retirement.  Necessarily a lot of that effort is directed at saying goodbye.  What I appreciated about this book was how encouraging it was about saying hello.  She offered a lot less of the typical dogmatic listing of what a minister must do to let go of the congregation.  Too often those lists seem high-handed and heavy-handed.  What spoke to me was this sentence:  “The love of Christ is where we met, and we can trust that somehow our spirits will always be joined there”. (p. 70)  How liberating to be told by an ‘expert’ that we are allowed to love each other regardless of the ending of the official relationship.  It makes the process of contemplating saying hello so much more appealing.  For the hellos, she suggests, one needs humility, vulnerability and patience.  As I read the closing chapter she spoke to my heart’s aching to love and to care for WPUC and to worry about its future too.  I hold fast to her closing paragraph:        God stayed in the place I left, and God remained with me too.        God accompanied me to a new place, even as God kept on loving the former place.        How does God do that?  Watch your shoes.  You’ll see.  (p. 117)I feel such gratitude for life.  Maybe it’s the warmth and sunshine of the Okanagan????  I am able to work and serve where people matter–where their stories are heard and remembered—where love is valued more than procedures–where Christ’s grace trumps everything.  It is a special place indeed.With affection,Sharon

Categories: General News, Sharon