Endings and Beginnings
In January of 2007 I retired from my job as a United Auto Worker representative at the General Motors truck plant in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Thirty years was enough, and besides, since 1999 I had also served as lay pastor of a small United Methodist Church in Wolf Lake, Indiana. Holding down both jobs was a bit of a strain--even at the relatively young age of fifty-eight.
I love the job at the church. The people are great, the job was challenging, meaningful and I felt more than a little blessed. But by June of 2011, as I completed my twelfth year at the church, I began to feel restless. It seemed to me that there wasn't the same drive and excitement either in the congregation or in my ministry. By December I was seriously considering moving on, and by January had made up my mind to do so. But move on to what or where I had no idea.
Leaving the church would not be easy, I knew. I truly loved the members--even the ones who didn't necessarily reciprocate. Breaking the ties would be hard for me and for many of them. All the more so since in the Methodist system pastors may not return to a church once they had been reassigned. Still, I thought the church needed the stimulation of a new pastor/leader and I was unsettled as well. The question was whether I should ask for an appointment at another church or look for something else entirely.
When younger I had planned to retire either in the Caribbean or Central America. For a number of years I spent my vacation time visiting different countries/islands, looking for the perfect spot. I checked out Nassau and Freeport in the Bahamas, St. Martin/St. Maarten, the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Trinidad and Tobago, Curacao, Belize and Mexico. At that time I was teetering between St. Martin and Belize. I had fallen in love with St. Martin when I had gone there to play in a chess tournament in 1989 and had returned several times. Belize had real appeal because English was the official language and their rules for ownership of property were simple and strong. I even made an offer on some property there, but the deal fell through.
Eventually I abandoned the idea, choosing to remain near my family--particularly the grand kids. As time went on it became clear that I was more of a fifth wheel than an essential part of their lives. I began to lean more and more toward re-visiting my old dream of retiring abroad. After long thought I notified my district superintendent that in June of 2012 I would not be renewing my ministerial commitment and needed a year off to recharge my spiritual batteries. He understood my needs and left the door open for me to apply for a new appointment after a year. In order to avoid being a lame duck pastor for too long a time I was asked not to notify my church immediately, but to wait for the OK from the district. It was difficult not to tell my church family right away. I was not used to keeping secrets from them but I understood the reasons.
Now I needed to decide where to go and the search was on!
Next: The Search & Decision