Dear Members and Friends,
… Which causes me to wonder, my own purpose on so many days as humble as the spider’s, what is beautiful that I make? What is elegant? What feeds the world?
-Louise Erdrich, 21st century
If through [someone]’s life there is a little more love and kindness, a little more light and truth in the world, then [they] will not have lived in vain.
-Alfred Delp, S.J., 20th century
For so many of us we live our lives, we spend a large chunk of those lives at work, engaging in careers and fulfilling job responsibilities, and we often wonder, at the end of the day, just what we have accomplished. We move through life and often wonder if we have had any positive impact on the world around us, or on anyone’s life. It is so rare that we have the opportunity, prior to death, to really learn what impact we have had on people around us. To learn how we have touched, or challenged, or changed someone’s life is a great gift.
This is especially true for a Pastor. Sure, we receive feedback from many people at the church door after worship: “Good message this morning, preacher.” And while those kind words are always appreciated, they are often shared more as a greeting than as a heartfelt testimony as to their impact. The same is true for the words of appreciation after a funeral, or a hospital visit, or a wedding. These interactions are all nice and affirming, and we need such affirmation in our lives, but again, they do not speak to the deeper, long term impact you may, or may not, be having on people.
Then there are those people who come through the church, sometimes only for a season. They may never fully affiliate, but they attend frequently. And then they just disappear. Where did they go? What happened in their lives? Was it something I said? Or didn’t say? And there are those people who come to the church, actually join the church and become engaged in the life and ministry with you. They may be involved for several years, or even longer. And then one day, something happens, and they leave. Maybe it is a job change that takes them out of town. Maybe it is some other life change that leads to a different pattern of life for them. But sometimes there is a misunderstanding, or a disagreement about something, and they leave. This always feels like a failure. Surely in the church we should be able to work out our differences, come to some understanding, find some common ground. Jesus calls us to love one another – not like, not always agree with. And yet, as imperfect human creatures, still evolving, still growing into the likeness of Jesus, we find we cannot always live together.
All of this is to say, it was a tremendous, deeply meaningful gift you all gave to me and Dianne last Saturday at the Retirement Party Celebration. Everything about the evening was life affirming, uplifting, and a wonderful expression of love. From the moment we walked into Fellowship Hall, (beyond fashionably late, even for Miami standards) and you welcomed us with applause we felt loved. Moving through the Hall, greeting all those gathered, with some surprises of some folks who traveled back into town to be present, our hearts were touched. The food was delicious, the mood music played by our very own DJ, Daniel Best, all made for a festive atmosphere, and the generous retirement gift was truly appreciated.
But what truly was the icing on the cake (oh, and the Red Velvet Cake was a perfect choice, my favorite!) were the spoken words of tribute, many of which were not just humorous or touching stories about our time among you, but were sincere, heartfelt testimonies to the impact our ministry among you has had on your lives. Some of the stories shared I remembered and knew. But many of them were surprising to me and I had no idea of the ways in which words I had spoken, or written, or other actions I had taken, had touched you, inspired you, moved you, even transformed you. These were the most precious gifts you could have offered. (Those gifts were extended and even amplified when we returned to our home and read through all the many, many notes and cards which you had shared. Again, many testimonies were given in written form and our hearts were lifted up, touched, and deeply affirmed.)
So I want to say, on behalf of myself and Dianne, THANK YOU for all the expressions of love on Saturday evening and in the past 24 years. THANK YOU for all the support you have provided to us as we have served among you for 24 years. THANK YOU for the opportunity and privilege to serve you as Pastor. And THANK YOU for the tremendous gift of sharing with me some of the meaningful ways my ministry has impacted you.
I also want to affirm and encourage you to remember this lesson and be sure to continue to share this marvelous gift with other people in your life. Don’t let it go until a retirement party, or until you are asked to say nice words at their funeral. If someone has had a positive impact on your life – a teacher, a mentor, a colleague, a pastor, a friend – reach out to them in some way, through a note, an email, a card, or give them a phone call, and share with them the impact they have had on your life. It will be one of the most meaningful gifts you can give them.
See you in church.
R. Steven Hudder
Pastor, Christ Congregational United Church of Christ
Palmetto Bay, Florida