If you didn’t see my message last night announcing my retirement this autumn, you might want to check your email. A glitz in the system made it look like it was from Ben, but it was of course from yours truly. Life is complicated and imperfect.
May I draw an analogy to this moment where we find ourselves just now? When I was driving back from Bridgeport four years ago, and Moderator Caroline Burke informed me that our Meetinghouse holding hundreds upon hundreds just days before at Easter was ready to collapse, it felt to me like the walls might fall in too.
We’d spent four years rebuilding trust and steadiness at FCC, D and it felt like all that might be destabilized by forces beyond our control. I wondered how far back we had truly come. I knew that our unity and composure would be quickly tested.
I braced myself for some recoil. I spoke solemnly at Council about being forced from our Meetinghouse and needing to come up with hundreds of thousands of dollars. Nobody underestimated the challenge. But Council smiled insouciantly back at me and said something that just blew me away. “No big deal. This is just a physical problem, not a spiritual problem. It is a nuisance and annoyance, yes, but we’ll get through this.” I knew we were all the way back from former troubles.
I launched out among our membership and hit the pavement to find big bucks we didn’t have. I ended up speaking with more than two dozen church households. Before visiting my first family, my palms were sweating, and I had to walk a bit to calm myself. They could see my evident discomfiture with asking for this money.
They said, “Do you imagine we don’t know why you’re here? Give us more credit than that. Just relax. You are not asking money for yourself, but for our church. We are not about to let FCC, D fall down. So let’s get to work…” I ended up giving personal tours to some families who wanted to make certain that we were going about fixing things the right way. But everyone made this ‘ask’ easy for me.
My point is we’ve together built a firm foundation for facing through this transition. First Congregational is pointed and headed in the right direction. Our staff is very united. We’ll find an interim minister to augment Ben and Christine’s leadership. Dan and Max will anchor our music ministry. Our lay leaders are faithful and fine.
The message of my leaving could be destabilizing, especially during COVID-19. But we are not only going to be all right, we are going to prosper, especially if we can use the “down time” of the pandemic for planning ahead to find a new pastor to help us hit the ground running as we’re able to worship again as we did before.
Many have already shared generous and kind things about my leadership. I’m grateful. But make no mistake, as we’ve rebuilt FCC–literally and figuratively—it hasn’t happened in a Dale-dependent way. Be the confident church that you are.