It was appropriate that our pastor would base his final sermon on blessings, both given and received. In fact, most of us were doing that very thing as we reflected on the past few years with the Prestons.
Of course, it would have been easy to have been saddened or disappointed. Change is hard, especially when you like the people who are leaving. But, if put in the right mindset, we could just as easily make this a time of celebration and I hope that’s what we did yesterday as we wished our pastor and his family a fond farewell.
It had fallen to me to make the presentation of our gift, as no one else thought they could get through it. That was okay with me, though. It gave me an opportunity to include a few of the thoughts that others had shared with me throughout the week. And, I got through it—barely. So, let me count those blessings as I should.
1. Our pastor came to us at a rough time in the life of our congregation and God knew we needed them to help us regroup after losing our two previous pastors in ways that were hard. We were, in fact, still trying to deal with grief. However, with the Preston’s came a breath of new life and the energy to pick up and move on. It was exactly the right blessing at the right time.
2. For a church as old as ours, changing anything can be a big deal. However, our pastor led us through many changes while helping us stay true to the name above our door: unity. We bought new pews and choir chairs, added a new sound system, installed a new HVAC system and remodeled our basement fellowship hall. And, we’re all still together. I count that a blessing.
3. We began to organize ourselves in ways that made sense. We added a fellowship committee and a building committee. We started a youth group and reinvented our summer vacation bible school into a sports camp approach. Blessing number 3.
4. Our congregation grew with new families. Those faces were evident among the group gathered yesterday to say farewell. The growth has been welcome in so many ways. We will continue to care for and nurture these new relationships that our pastor helped to initiate.
5. We were filled with music. The choir was blessed to add the pastor and his wife, both accomplished musicians, and we raised a joyful noise these past few years. We also enjoyed the frequent visits of the rest of their family who not only brought special music, but, also helped out with major presentations at Christmas and Easter. I’ll miss that more than they can know.
6. Church should never be boring and it wasn’t. Our pastor brought with him a healthy sense of humor that was appreciated by everyone in the church, young and old. To hear laughter coming from a church during a Sunday worship service certainly provides the kind of witness God intended. That there is much joy in being a Christian.
7. The pastor was a good businessman with both wisdom and the assertiveness to get us moving and keep us motivated. He dealt with many a sticky issue while with us, but, managed it very well. With both wisdom and understanding. Although divisiveness could have easily occurred, he kept folks together and helped us weather each storm.
8. At a time when politics are nasty in the Southern Baptist camp, our pastor led us away from the fray and in a direction that matched who we are and what we believe as a church. He was accepting of our earlier decision to ordain a woman as a deacon and, in fact, helped us to ordain a second woman while serving as our pastor.
9. He loved fellowship and being with his congregation. Although time was not always on his side, he attended as many events as possible. It was increasingly difficult for an already busy man with a family and another job to be available, but, he managed to attend an amazing number of those events while serving as our pastor.
10. He was not only our pastor, but, our very close friend. That’s what I’ll miss most. There aren’t many people in our church my age. They were one of the few couples that my husband and I could really relate to. We both had children in college, both worked at the University, had many things in common and genuinely enjoyed being around each other. He was more than a pastor. He was more like a brother. I picked on him and teased him. I told him more about my thoughts than I’d shared with any other pastor. He tolerated my stupid jokes and helped me keep my Irish temper in check. Wow, I’m gonna miss that.
So, I’ve done my best to turn this sow’s ear into a silk purse. I hope God can appreciate how hard I’ve tried to do that this week. It will be different going back to church next Sunday, but, when I start feeling a little down and melancholy, I’ll take a look around at the reminders of Pastor Preston that will be in the room with me and know that God was good.