This last week, I had the honor of returning to the place where I spent my first twenty years in ministry. I saw so many dear friends whom I had not seen of spoken to in years. There was laughter and tears as stories were told and memories shared. I left the experience uplifted and enriched.
I saw and met with members of each of the two churches I served. When I did, there was an immediate sense of love and compassion that surfaced from deep within me. I staid up way too late each night going back through time with people with whom I once served in ministry.
I also had a chance to visit with the current pastors of both churches. I felt such deep love and respect for them. They were now shepherds and caretakers of families that I once had spiritual oversight of. I knew that they were giving their heart and soul to the spiritual care of people I still loved. I was so proud of them, so grateful to them, and so covetous of the news from back home that told of their ongoing health and vitality.
Something struck me. I became aware of something I had never really known before. It reminded me in some ways of Paul, who was always writing to churches and communities he served and to whom for a while he preached the good news. What struck me was this: you never really leave a people with whom you once served; you merely extend the boundaries of their love.
Yes, yes say your goodbyes. You respond to another call that finds you serving another setting and letting go of your previous responsibilities. You begin new duties in a new place. Your attentions are directed to a new ministry. But your heart never stops longing for and wanting spiritual health and wholeness for the ones you left behind.
I don’t think that is something that is unique to pastors. Members of churches come and go. They too leave and begin a life of faith with other fellow travelers. They take with them not just memories. There abides within them something of incalculable worth: the very values and perspectives and ethos of a faith family that fed them and nourished them for a time. It never leaves. And it doesn’t matter how much time goes by between one’s leaving and one’s homecoming - the time away does nothing to erode what was planted within the souls and spirits of the returning beloved.
I found myself grateful for those connections. Not just seeing the people that I loved and had care of, although that was part of it. It was an awareness that we shaped each other with mutual love and respect. And therefore we shared something of great worth and value. We were each and all changed by the time we had together. The coming together again made that obvious, and also very precious.
Whether you are one whose choices sent you away from a beloved community, or you are one who stayed home and had to say goodbye to another whose pathway for a time diverged: y9 know both the pain of separation and the joy of homecoming. You also know that no matter how much time passes, the important and valuable spiritual gifts that were exchanged between you remain,
May the Spirit of the living God continue to call us together and bless our sacred separations. And may we carry with us always the precious memories and blessings of those with whom we commune on this, our journey Into the Mystic.