This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for August 1, 2019, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.
Ecclesiastes tells us there is a time to begin and there is a time to end something. Recognizing that fact is necessary, because you have to develop a feel for knowing when a good thing needs to end, and when another good thing needs to begin. And in God’s logarithm, often those in-between times can be difficult, discouraging, and even painful.
All of us have experienced the ending of our childhood and the beginning of adulthood (well, maybe not all of us, as I have known a few men in my lifetime who were fifty years old and still childish boys), the end of bachelorhood and the beginning of marriage, the end of college and the start of a career, etc. We’ve all experienced the difficulty and the joy of those transformations. And, of course, we can experience such shifting gears as a group, too. A much loved teacher retires and the faculty and the student body feel the personality of the school has suddenly changed. For better or worse, the definition of “life” is “change.”
In the early days of my residence in East Bernard, we seemed to lose a town essence or personality when several of our wonderful mom-and-pop stores closed down, especially our uniquely wonderful mom-and-pop grocery store, when the whole town gathered there for drawings and fried gizzards each Saturday. Suddenly, our little feed store was no longer open, and you couldn’t buy your garden seeds by the scoops full any more. And two splendid mom-and-pop dry goods stores closed. These changes didn’t all happen at once, but since they were part of the unique “personality” of our town, with each change we lost something unique.
New beginnings of new businesses came about, and each became part of our town’s unique identity. Through it all, our town continues and thrives in the ebb and flow of life.
This last Sunday in July 2019 marked the second anniversary of my retirement from the pastoral ministry in 2017. But it also coincided with the acceptance of a new pastor’s call to St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis. The officers of our church announced Sunday that Rev. Rod Houppert of New Orleans, Louisiana, just accepted St. Paul’s call for him to serve them as their pastor. I’m guessing that the overall reaction was relief and joy. Two years is a long time for a church to operate without a shepherd; even though they always have the Good Shepherd, they also need the under-shepherd to carry on the work of the parish. It was a relief and joy to me, too, as my heart was still in the church, still caring about the members, and wishing I could serve. The ending that made us all sad and worried in 2017 will now be transformed into a new beginning filled with hope and joyful anticipation for all of us. My wife and I are still members of the church, and she is still the church organist. This is a time of celebration for all.
The lesson we learn from such experiences as this is: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purposes” (Romans 8:28). Naturally when a small, traditional, rural church loses its pastor, and it knows it can’t compete financially with the larger, more affluent, churches, to call a new shepherd, there is great anxiety about the future of the congregation, established in 1900 with a splendid history. To its great credit, and the Good Shepherd at the helm, the congregation held together, worked together solidly for two years, and maintained a strong faith in a gracious God. And He provided.
For me, as for anyone who retires after a long, blessed relationship with a parish, the first year away was difficult, even painful at times, but gradually my 85 year old body began to appreciate resting in my recliner on the sun porch, spending more time with my precious granddaughters, not to mention my wife, reading all those books I never had time to read, and, joyfully writing all those poems and essays, and even a book, I had always wanted time to write. By the time the second year of retirement began, my sadness had turned to joy, — except for one thing, — the great difficulty of the church getting another pastor. Now, there will be a new beginning with a new pastor, a new hope, and new plans.
Ray Spitzenberger invites the reader to view and “like” his Facebook Page, “@WendWriterWhittler, Ray Spitzenberger, Author and Artist.”