I am 57 – which is rather old to many in our culture. There are things I can do, gifts I can share, experiences I can draw upon. But maybe my role is to step aside and make it possible for someone younger to do things, share gifts, offer their experiences. It is a tricky situation, because I still both want to serve and have gifts to offer. So what’s a seasoned pastor to do?
I love creating opportunities for spiritual development. I love preaching and God talk and Faith on Tap and praying with people and hearing stories and telling stories. I (rather disturbing) love to mediate conflict. I hear about new church initiatives and would love to jump in and do them. But it’s someone else’s turn.
My role in this chapter of my ministry is to make it possible for people from about 25-5o to do what God is calling them to do. They can mentor me as – I hope – I can mentor them. I’m a digital immigrant longing to learn new things. And if you ask me, I’ll share what I’ve learned after all these years about dealing with church bullies, firing staff members, shifting paradigms, figuring out what makes God’s heart break in your neighborhood, training officers, tweaking officer roles, and equipping the saints for 21st Century ministry.
My Dad’s only sister is now in her late 80s. She has outlived her six brothers – the three who were older and the three who were younger.
Aunt Jane was once the Go-To person if you wanted to serve a church in North Carolina. She would have gone to seminary if women had done such things 70 years ago. Now she is hospitalized after a stroke which happened after a fall.
Her season as a congregational and Presbytery leader is over, but it’s important to honor her contributions and remember the small and great things she did to show the love of Jesus – among them: saving the life and soul of a troubled kid whose principal wanted him forever expelled from school. She literally planted herself between the student and the school administration. And now he is a college professor. She served on countless committees and commissions, taught classes, traveled to China, and mediated family disputes.
Once she read Scripture at my ordination. Now people read Scripture to her in the hospital. Once she took me on my first trip to Montreat. Many years later, I was called to my second church because of those Montreat trips.
Her granddaughter is a recent seminary graduate, and she will lead the next generation of Jesus’ disciples. Aunt Jane was so, so proud to watch S. go to seminary.
Why do people live past their prime, well into the years when their minds are no longer sharp and their legs are no longer strong? Because there is still work to be done. Maybe my Aunt Jane has work to do that only God can ascertain. Maybe her children and grandchildren and great-grandchild need this time with her. Maybe there are doctors and nurses and friends who are still learning from her.
Our job is to artfully live out whatever season we find ourselves in. For my Aunt Jane – who agrees that old age is not for sissies – it’s a new season. And it’s a new season for me too. And it’s a new season for my first cousin once removed who just graduated from seminary. And it’s a new season for you, perhaps.
Image is looking out on the Edmiston farm – in honor of our first Cousins Day without Uncle Bill.