Category Archives: ending

Completion

One thing I rarely have experienced in my three decades of pastoral ministry is a sense of completion.  Unlike a contractor who sees a completed home or an artist who holds a completed piece, I have rarely felt like I had finished a long-term task.  I may have finished a pastoral visit or a Sunday sermon, but there were always more visits to make and sermons to write.  The job of pastor, by its nature, was never finished.

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Trinity Lutheran in Lindstrom, MN

So when I ended my thirteen month interim at Trinity Lutheran Church in Lindstrom last week, I was surprised that my dominant emotion has been a sense of satisfaction.  I had accomplished the specific job I was called to do.  I had been their temporary shepherd as they took time to grieve the departure of their previous senior pastor, to assess their present mission and leadership needs and to call a new senior pastor.  Now they are ready as a congregation to walk forward into God’s future.

12741879_10153577171059480_1232960852186957582_n-2Yes, there are other emotions.  I feel sadness at leaving some great relationships.  As a pastor I shared in the joy of baptisms and the sorrows of funerals.  Together we struggled how to faithfully steward a large bequest to the congregation.  I truly enjoyed working with Trinity’s leadership of council and committees as together we sought God’s path for Trinity.  I will miss many gracious people.

palmsundayhorizontal2014What my recent study and practice of mindfulness has taught me is that all things change.  As a pastor I intellectually knew this, but never fully embraced it.  All pastoral ministries come to an end.  As an intentional interim pastor I recognized this from the start.  I practiced “living one day at a time, enjoying each moment at time,” as the Serenity Prayer says.  Some days I did become anxious, trying to control the outcome.  But during my final weeks at Trinity, as they prepared for the arrival of their new pastor, I took time to be grateful for the opportunity to serve and to savor the satisfaction of my call’s completion.

At this time, I do not know where my next interim will be.  I am reminded of Psalm 121,

The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore.

For now, I rest during my personal interim.

When have you experienced a sense of completion?  How did you respond to it?

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One Day, Two Good-byes

Sunday will be a unique day in my life and my ministry.  In the morning I will preach my last sermon for my congregation after five years of ministry; in the afternoon I will conduct the memorial service for my mom who died at the age of 89.

I choose October 25th to be my final Sunday a month ago.  Like all good-byes I am experiencing a mixture of emotions: sadness, loss,  but also some excitement and hope as I embark on a new venture.  I have sensed the powerful prayer support of family, friends and community as I transition in my ministry. (Read more here)

Mom and GraceMy mom, Sylvelin Keller, had been a nursing home resident for the past four years as dementia robbed her of speech and memory.   She did not know my name or converse when I visited but she could still smile and laugh.  She seemed happiest when she held her great granddaughter, Grace.

I was away at a pastor’s conference last week when I received the phone call that my mother had died in her sleep.   I was both surprised and relieved.  She had always said she wanted to die in her sleep and her wish had been granted.  Before I left the conference to travel home, my bishop gathered the other pastors around me for prayer.  Again I felt the great cloud of witness surrounding me.

Suzanne, Christina and Jon loved visit from FarFar and FarMor

Suzanne, Christina and Jon loved visits from FarFar and FarMor

My daughter, Suzanne Keller, wrote a post on Facebook that describes her relationship with her Farmor (grandmother):

As a child who grew up with scholarship and the struggle to dissect understanding of things as others created them, my Farmor was the greatest force of unrelenting creation I can remember.

She made things with her hands and her heart and turned the world from a place of study to a place to leave a thousand tiny marks. She sewed, she baked, she cooked and she made memories that my dad could recount with fondness with her own two hands. She sewed and embroidered entire expanses of my childhood. She lived across the country, but with one plate of cookies created an entire iconic aspect of my Christmases. She was a craftsman of cookies and memories, a legacy of genetics and stories.

My Farfar left me his name on a chain from fighting in World War II, and my Farmor left me with a packet of recipes and the understanding that a thousand little creations can create a story.

She and Michael Brashears, the two most creative people I’ve ever had the honor of knowing, passed in October. I wrote a poem in college calling fall the dying season, but what a hateful thing having the greatest composers of legacy leave us in the same month, if years apart. What a hateful thing to lose, what a beautiful thing to be transformed.

Mom surround by her children four years ago.

Mom surround by her children four years ago.

My mother had five children, who now are scattered from Kodiak Island, Alaska to Atlanta, Georgia.  Coordinating the date of her memorial service was challenging.   Finally the date that worked was Sunday, October 25, the same day as my final worship service.  Mom had joined my congregation five years ago when she moved to Minnesota.   I had been her pastor during that time and now I needed to do her memorial service.  I did not feel the need to baptize my children or marry my son, but this is somehow different.  Maybe it’s part of the fourth commandment.  I don’t know.

All I know is that Sunday will be filled with some incredible emotions, both sorrow and joy, as I say good-bye to a tribe and to a mother.   The one sure anchor in the midst of these storms is the very name of my congregation: Resurrection Lutheran Church.

cropped-2014-rlc-logo-cropped-2.jpgJesus said  “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live.” John 10:25

Beginning the Transition

Recently I posted on my decision to leave as Lead Pastor of Resurrection.   Today I am writing about my decision to train for interim ministry.

Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end
Semisonic’s  “Closing Time”

I was introduced to transitions twenty years ago with William Bridges book, Transitions: Making Sense of Life Changes.   Bridges describes every transition as having three parts.

1.       An Ending
2.       An In-between  Period of Confusion/Distress
3.       A new Beginning.

"So long, partner" Woody, Toy Story 3

“So long, partner” Woody, Toy Story 3

Each part needs attention.   For example, right now I am in the midst of an ending as I prepare to leave Resurrection.  Ending always have some element of grief and pain, even when they are chosen endings. Bridges writes “Those who had chosen their transitions tended to minimize the importance of endings, almost as if they felt that to acknowledge that an ending was painful would be to admit that the transition was a mistake.”  Leaving a group of people who you love is hard.

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The second part of a transition is often neglected in our instant society.  People and congregations like to rush immediately to the new beginning.   “Let’s call a new pastor as soon as possible!”  Sometimes a congregation is ready to call a new pastor.  Often they are not.

Before rushing to the new beginning, individuals and congregations need to pause and assess where they are and what God is doing.  Bridges calls this time “The Neutral Zone.”   I prefer to call it “The Wilderness Time,” remembering both the wilderness stories of Exodus and Jesus.   The Israelites spent forty years between the time they left slavery in Egypt and prior to their new start in the land of Canaan.  They wandered in the wilderness.  Jesus spent forty days in the wilderness after his baptism. His was a time of intense prayer as to what his ministry would be.

Christ in the Wilderness by Ivan Kramskoy

Christ in the Wilderness by Ivan Kramskoy

And the Spirit immediately drove Jesus out into the wilderness.  He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him. (Mark 1:12-13)

The wilderness period can be an intensely spiritual time because the armor of daily routine and thought are cracked wide open.  The Spirit has new ways to penetrate the hardness of our hearts.   It can also be a time of darkness and temptation, yet such temptations can be points of new wisdom as well, “for angels waited on him.”

Intentional Interim Ministry is for the wilderness time in a congregation’s life.  When a long-tenured pastor leaves, an interim pastor is hired to serve a short contract (6-18 months) to shepherd the congregation through a time of assessment as it prepares to call a new pastor.   These “temporary shepherds” may need to deal with certain issues (past conflict, neglect, staff concerns to name just a few) as well as help the leadership prepare for their next pastor.

I sense a call to this kind of intense but short-duration ministry.  My own prayer life is centered on the phrase, “Be still and know that I am God” Psalm 46:10.  During an interim a congregation needs to be still and discover whose they are.  I believe I have the wisdom, experience, patience and pastoral skills to assist congregations during their transition.  Time will tell.

I will start the specialized training for Intentional Interim Ministry on Monday, October 26.  Prayers appreciated.

Thankful For Resurrection

Even though I have resigned from Resurrection, I am so very thankful for the partnership we share together for five years.  I want to share a few of the memories I cherish.

I remember the Saturday before my first Sunday, November 14, 2010.  It started to snow heavily.   As I watched the snow I began to wonder, “Should I be worried about this?  Who plows the parking lot or shovels the walkways?  Do I need to contact them?”  After fretting for about an hour, I decided to call Tom Hansen, the interim pastor prior to my arrival.  He quickly reassured me, “Don’t worry, John.  Larry will plow the lot and clear the walks.”  Sure enough, when I arrived the next morning, Larry was finishing up the parking lot, clearing away the ten-plus inches of snow.   I have never worried about snow removal or property maintenance since.

Baptsim croppedBaptisms have been a blast!  I love holding each new member of the congregation and instructing the congregation that we have made a promise to the child: the promise to raise the child in faith in Jesus.

However the baptism that will always stand out for me was my first one.  It was for an adult, Jill Blissenbach.  I made sure the water was in the font, the baptismal promises  were on display slides, and the family was ready.  The only problem was that when it came time to do the actual baptism I completely forgot Jill’s name.  Fortunately she did not and graciously laughed with me at my mistake.

Worship Team from Resurrection Lutheran Church

Worship Team from Resurrection Lutheran Church

I remember with joy the children coming up to the front each Sunday for the Children’s message and their eagerness to share God’s love in their comments.   Several times the worship team moved me to visible tears with a song that touched my heart in a special way.  I remember preaching on the four soils from Jesus’ parable of the sower in Mark 4 and how each section of the church responded to being labeled a certain type of soil.   I particularly remember how excited the “good” soil section responded with smiles and a few “Yeahs!”

P6180395I remember the contagious enthusiasm for Vacation Bible Adventure, Camp Wapo and the High School Mission trip each summer.

Families make school kits during Faith In Action Sunday

Families make school kits during Faith In Action Sunday

I remember the energy and excitement of the Faith in Action Sundays when we served in the community in such diverse and meaningful ways.  “What happens at Resurrection leaves Resurrection.”

New Connections 6 - purpleAnd I remember the New Connections Campaign when we had to raise funds to pay for our connection to city sewer, a sign, and a building study.   The generosity of that campaign demonstrated for me that Resurrection can do great things when the members rally together.

2012-01-10_13-50-08_416I have left the most significant for last: the amazing relationship with staff, members, visitors and friends, each carrying the quantum energy of God’s love.  I will miss them.

The memories are rich and diverse, stretching deep into my life.  My decision to leave is NOT based on some deficiency in the congregation, but rather my changing spiritual focus and call.  I believe Resurrection has a great and joyous dance with Jesus coming soon.  I look forward to watching Resurrection become more fully alive in the months and years to come.

What is one of your favorite memories of your congregation?

Resigning from Resurrection

Monday I resigned as Lead Pastor of Resurrection Lutheran Church.  My last Sunday will be October 25, 2015.  You can see my letter of resignation here.

The path to the decision was a long and winding one.  (The twisting path was also a partial reason I have not posted on this blog for six months.)  It was not made suddenly or without prayer and conversation.    Though there have been many contributing factors,  three key events shaped my decision.

Retreat CenterThe first was an eight-day silent centering prayer retreat in June.   Though it was held at a non-descript  wooded camp, the experience was life transforming.  The silence time of prayer and reflection helped solidify my longing for contemplation and deep prayer.   I had a couple of profound experiences that I need to write about in future posts.  I want to go back.

18395_10153362640945266_2272565119671433986_nThe second was the five-day ELCA youth gathering in Detroit in July.   Thirty thousand youth packed into Ford Field, praising, dancing, singing in the joyous, raucous Spirit of Christ.  There were times when I felt like I was 17 years old again, swept up in the celebration.   It was a powerful trip for me, the three adults, and ten youth from Resurrection.

Taken together, the silent prayer retreat and the youth gathering, could be seen as two ends of a spiritual spectrum.  One end  is the quiet, contemplative Spirit of God, “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him.” (Psalm 37:7) The other is the joyous noisy  Spirit of God, “You will take up your tambourines and go out to dance with the joyful.” (Jeremiah 31:4)

Both are good and healthy, but they rarely live together in the same tent.

Still Dance SpectrumThe two are significant in that I see my own spirituality moving towards the quiet, contemplative end of the spectrum, while I see the needs of Resurrection’s spirituality is for the joyful dance.  Neither is better than the other, but they were not working together within me, especially since I am called to be the leader.   Thus for months my own spirit has been restless.

The third event was a private conversation with two trusted leaders of the congregation.  They initiated the conversation in a caring environment.  During the conversation they asked me was a simple, yet profound question, “Do you feel like you still fit at Resurrection?”

praatgroepenLike a skillful politician I hemmed and hawed and dodged the question that evening.  But as I drove home from the conversation, I realized in my heart-of-hearts that I no longer fit.   It was a blow to my ego.  I wanted to be in control, yet I was not.  I wrestled with the question all through that night and several afterwards.  Yet I woke up each morning realizing that the answer was the same.  It is time for me to leave Resurrection.

In the next couple of days, I will post on what my plans are for the future.   For now it is sufficient to say that I am both sad to leave a fantastic congregation like Resurrection and at peace with listening to the call of God’s Spirit.

I have been reflecting on these words from Parker Palmer’s Let Your Life Speak.

Before you tell your life what you intend to do with it, listen for what it intends to do with you.  Before you tell your life what truths and values you have decided to live up to, let your life tell you what truths you embody, what values you represent. (page 3)

Superior Hiking Trail – Day Four

On my final day of hiking, I sent a leisurely morning in the motel, waiting for the morning fog to burn off. Late in the morning I hiked in rare sunshine back up to trail on the outskirts of Silver Bay. The Superior Hiking Shuttle would not arrive until 3:00 pm so I had time to hike back up the trail that was so foggy and wet the day before.

Looking Southwest from the ridge near Silver Bay.

Looking southwest from the ridge near Silver Bay.

After reaching the ridge, the views were quite spectacular. I could look down into the Beaver River Valley and even spot the Beaver Bay trailhead five miles distant. The railroad and pipeline reminded me that this is mining country with ore trains bring raw taconite to the Silver Bay processing plant.

The clear views also made me pause for some spiritual reflection. The day before I had hiked over this terrain totally oblivious to the views around me. Yesterday I had to walk by faith, trusting in the trail to lead me safely to Silver Bay. Now I was given the opportunity to see some of the beauty and wonder surrounding me. Many times in our walk with God we are walking in the fog , trusting in God’s love to guide us. Then comes the occasional glimpse of how God is marvelously weaving our life path into a beautiful tapestry.

IMG_20130531_123626_171I hiked back down to the trail head with plenty of time to meet the shuttle. I was the only passenger that afternoon as the driver drove me back to my car at Castle Danger. He told me that not only was the late spring a great time to hike the trail, but early fall (mid-September to early October) was a fantastic time as the leaves change color. Now I have a new incentive to return and explore another section of the trail.

Lord Jesus, thank you for all life journeys.

Wilderness Journey – Day Four

Last Night at Tileston Meadow Campsite

My last night on the trail involved one more thunderstorm. This time it was not the lightning that disturbed me, but the rain itself. In the alpine meadow on Mummy Mountain, the vegetation there absorbed most of the water. Here at the designated campsite, the tent pad was simply flat dirt. The rain splattered from the tarp to the ground to my ground cloth and sleeping pad. After a few minutes my ground tarp was splattered with muddy water and debris. I had pitched my tarp too high with too much space between the edge of the tarp and the ground. After the evening storm passed, I lowered the tarp.

I also questioned the wisdom of concentrating all backpackers to a few locations. I realize that many backpackers do not practice “leave-no-trace” camping, and that the national parks are trying to keep the back country as wild and pristine as possible. But the designated campsites create sites devoid of vegetation and wonder.

I prefer to seek my own stealth campsite off the beaten trail where I can create a wonderful sleep space for one night. In the morning I work hard to clear any trace of my having been there. Fortunately a hiker can use such techniques on the Pacific Crest Trail where I plan to hike a section next summer.

My last morning on the trail was uneventful. The sky was partly sunny and my body and mind were ready to leave. It was not that I was tired of the trail, but that I had set my expectations for four days and was ready to go.

My path on the Black Canyon trail was consistently downhill and I gobbled up the miles. My feet and legs were stronger now and I was thankful for my decision to use trail running shoes instead of my heavier backpacking boots. Only in the boulder fields on Mummy Mountain did I have any doubts regarding this decision. My feet seemed light and quick as I strode down the trail and I reflected on a sermon I once heard from Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Seminary. He preached on Isaiah 52:7.

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”

He observed that most people would focus on the words or mouth of the messenger, but the text reflects on the feet. His observation is that the words or mouth of the messenger have no significance unless the messenger first arrives at his or her destination. Messengers need to use their feet and go.

As I hiked out, I was thankful for the opportunity to be on trail, but also thankful for the opportunity to go, live and serve among the people of Resurrection Lutheran Church. My feet and I were ready to continue the mission of announcing, “Your God reigns!”

Lord Jesus, show me how to announce that your kingdom comes.