There’s always an inherent risk in connecting with our fellow humans: one day, you may have to say goodbye. Or, on this side of eternity at least, “see you later.” When our dear fellow pastors Rachel and Phil shared with us their news, that the Holy Spirit has been concurrently stirring new directions in both of their lives, we had (to use millennial speak) all the feels.
Now that their plans have been shared more widely this week, we imagine many of you may be feeling a lot, too. Such a mixture of feelings is sometimes called poignancy: smiles mixed with tears, sadness rooted in profound gratitude for all the ways in which these two have so meaningfully shaped our life together at First Church. That special prick of poignancy seems to be the calling card of the presence of God. Just think of that welling up of tearful joy as Rachel welcomes all people to the Communion table. Or think of that pregnant silence that follows laughter after Phil embodies a story from scripture, bringing an old parable to new life. We also recognize the extra impact of losing our two queer-identified settled clergy on our Open and Affirming congregation.
One of the hardest things about modern ministry is transience — not only the transience of members moving away in an increasingly mobile society, but the transience of staff. The average tenure of an associate pastor in mainline churches is now less than 3 years! How lucky are we to have had Rachel among us for 6 years, and Phil for 24 as a staff member. Reluctant as we are to see them go, we can be glad for other churches as well as the big-C Church that will benefit from their spiritual gifts — and proud of ourselves, that we are a place that gives so many people the grounding and courage to answer God’s calling, even when it leads them to leap away from what is familiar and comfortable.
Part of our calling as the Body of Christ is that we also celebrate the exciting new opportunities that are opening up for both Phil and Rachel. For when one member of the Body of Christ is honored, we all rejoice together with it. (1 Corinthians 12:26) We rejoice in the new adventures towards Ordination and Solo Pastoring, respectively, and the new adventures of open space, whether the open space of semi-retirement or the open space of Lake Superior (ask Rachel about the winter “ice road” and “windsleds” to Madeline Island)!
In the meantime, stay tuned for ways to honor Rachel before the end of December, and Phil in the spring. Thankfully, before we say goodbye (or see you later), we will have plenty of time and many opportunities to celebrate the gifts that Rachel and Phil have brought to us and been for us lo these many years!