Yesterday was a mix of sadness and beauty. It was my pastor’s last Sunday as the Senior Minister at our church. The last few months have been filled with anxiety and grief because of this retirement that unfortunately we were not ready for, and neither was she.
I became her verger a few months after I started at this church. I asked to do it. I wanted to be around her, to help with the service, to be more than a person in the pews. It was a mostly useless role, but she allowed it, so I straightened her stole and fixed her hair, and made the occasional photo copy in preparation of the service. It was more for me than for her.
Yesterday, Fathers’ Day, her last day, she made very special. She played her guitar and sang to us, sang with us, had her men’s choir sing for us. She gave the little kids tubes of bubbles to give to their dads and make them run through the yard and lighten up, and she had those same little kids pass out little white paper bags of grass seed to all the men, because one thing men always need is grass seed. And with it comes the angels whispering to the blades of grass, “grow, grow, grow.”
I sat near the front during the service, per her request, I think – I might have just imagined that she asked me to be near the front. I knew it would be a hard day for her. Her mother was there, and more than the usual Sunday crowd was there too, trying to loosen their grip on her hands, trying to send her off. I didn’t cry once, although I wanted to several times. I could hear my departed grandmother’s voice saying, “Now is not the time to cry.” She was right – this was the time to be strong and offer a smiling face to reassure my pastor that she could get through this service, that we will go on, that our lives as people grounded in God’s love will go on, one way or another. I don’t know quite how she pulled it off – everything she did for us, for this service, and in general.
After the service and the reception, she and I were talking about a future time to meet up, hopefully next month. I have tried, unsuccessfully, to quell my ragged nerve of abandonment and not feel so desperate, and instead let her take the time she and her husband need to adjust to their new lives, to get the things done for themselves that were neglected in order to take care of us, to enjoy their lives, and to rest and travel. Then I asked her one simple question: “I don’t have your personal cell number, so will you call me?” But I did have her cell number, she said. It was the number I, and the entire parish, had been using all along.
I am not used to this – to a pastor whose life and work are not separated by a moat of fire, protecting that ‘real’ life – something I, and we the parish, are not a part of. The separation was never there to begin with.
True pastors are rare. When you find one, give all the love you can to her, or him, because they have given, and are giving us more than we can know.