The Big “R” 

Richard G. Leavitt, Senior Pastor, June 2018

Well, the Big R is approaching fast for me. And I’m very excited—mostly. Retirement is something of a finish line that we put out there at the beginning of our adult working life but hardly think about in emotional terms until it draws close. It hangs on a projected age and financial goal that impacts our career path in very real ways, but which doesn’t change our rhythm much from day to day. Even when I first announced my plans to retire to all of you back in January, this date of July 15th felt very far away—whole seasons hence! Now, it is almost here! Yikes!

I imagine the first few weeks after that date in mid-July will feel a lot like summer vacation, with folks taking a break from the busy church year and me getting more time to pause and breathe, too. As usual, I’ll have time for outdoor recreation, reading for pleasure, warmer weather to sit on my screen porch. Then after several months, it may feel like Sabbatical. Yes, those times are rich, offering opportunity to reflect, to re-tool, to live at a gentler pace. Maybe there will be some travel, a chance to visit friends, an opportunity to worship in different churches. By mid-autumn, I suspect the deeper reality will set in. What? You mean I don’t have to report on my renewal and learning activities? I don’t have to submit for continuing education funds? I don’t have to plan a sermon series or write Spire articles? And I can keep doing this new thing indefinitely? (as long as finances allow, of course!) Wow! Wow?!

Still to process and accomplish before I leave you on July 15th is the administrative and institutional handoff. How can I help Maureen begin with a running start? What are the details she needs to know that I don’t even think about anymore because they’re instinctive, automatic, or part of my 14-year history as your senior pastor? What do the other staff members and the lay leadership need from me before I depart? How do I begin to clean out my desk and files that will not only declutter my life, but also transfer the knowledge to whomever needs to receive it? Will I ever need this resource again? Do I need to keep that?

Then there are the pastoral care transitions. Are there ongoing concerns that others need to know? I have a rich and storied history with so many of you. I have walked with you through illness, through the marriage of your daughter, the birth of your grandchild, the death of your spouse. I sat with you when you lost your job and panicked about the future, when your daughter went missing and your son was arrested for drugs. When the community was rocked by violence or tragedy, I met with you individually and collectively we wrestled with how to respond as people of faith. In the upheaval of shifting politics and changes in society and church, we have shared tears and joy, outrage and sighs, laughter and hope. How does God want us to respond to this latest change or new reality? What an honor and sacred privilege it has been to walk with you these past years!

While we are not immediately moving away from Amherst, both Debbie and I will be stepping away from the church to allow new leaders to form relationships and establish their own priorities and style. It will be difficult to say goodbye, but oh so important for both Debbie and me and for all of you to bring this chapter of our shared life to closure. We’ll continue to see you out and about. We won’t stop caring about you. We may even see you at a WA holiday fair, or the Fourth of July parade. But I will no longer be able to serve you as your pastor. How our friendship will be sorted out is yet to be revealed. And it is always a little bit tricky to navigate because sometimes the distinction between pastor and friend can get professionally blurry.

Know that I am thrilled about the prospect of doing less and breathing more deeply after retirement. At almost 65, I’ve been doing parish ministry for a long time, still strong but with less energy than I used to have. Debbie and I savor all kinds of possibilities in our less structured life ahead. But I know I will miss this sacred calling and my unique relationship with all of you. As a congregation, you have my blessing and encouragement going forward. I am confident you will have many exciting and wonderful new adventures ahead. Hopefully, you’ll miss me a little bit, even as I will miss you! What has been and what will be are glorious indeed, and I give thanks to God for our time together. Blessings to all of you!

Grace and peace, love and prayers.