January 24, 2016
I have been fortunate throughout my life to have found that at each stage, it was the best, most challenging time ever. That was true in my 20’s when I was in college and graduate school, married and became an English teacher, in my 30’s and 40’s when I became mom to Sean and Meg, and left teaching to work as a medical office manager. And it was never more true than when I entered Candler School of Theology two months before my 50th birthday to study to become a pastor because I finally knew what I wanted to be when I grew up.
God has blessed me beyond measure in this late calling. In my first appointment, the good people at Corinth and Pentecost UMCs in Winder welcomed me, their first woman pastor; they encouraged and taught me, and put up with me as I learned the ins and outs of pastoral ministry. Then after 4 years in Winder, I moved twenty whole miles up the road to Athens and to Oconee St. and Athens Urban Ministries (as Action Ministries was known at that time.) I was the Director of AUM for 8 years, retiring from that position in 2009 but continuing on as the part time pastor of Oconee St.
Little did I know in 2001, that my second pastoral appointment would last for 15 years and contain so many joys and blessings along the way. My hope was always to be able to use the gifts God had given me in concert with the individual and corporate gifts of a congregation, so that we could be church together – because, as you know, it truly takes all of us. I believe that has happened here beyond my greatest expectations.
We have been through a lot together, and that’s putting it mildly! And through it all, God has been good to us. I looked back a few days ago over the names of those whose memories we hold dear in our hearts, many of whom were here to greet me when I arrived, and who now have gone home to God. And then I looked at the names of all the babies whom I have been privileged to baptize in this church. Lucy Hines started it all, and now as I look at our children, I smile every time I remember the unbreakable bond of baptism that I have with so many of them.
We have grown in many ways – in membership, programming, mission, and outreach, always guided by our desire to be a church that welcomes everyone regardless. And if I were to choose which characteristic most describes you, it would be your gracious, inclusive welcoming of each person who comes through our doors. You’ve experienced that welcome yourself, and you pass it on each Sunday.
We have also experienced hardship as well as joy. The fire in 2013 forever marked those of us who were here at that time. We will never forget that event, where we were when we found out, how we felt, what we did in the first days afterward, and how we grieved together and planned together for the future. In those first months, our guiding scripture was from 1 Thessalonians “We do not grieve as those who have no hope.” And then later, we transitioned to Hebrews: Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” And finally last June we did see it! And in August we celebrated it!
During the rebuilding time, we grew stronger, more compassionate, more trusting, more reliant on one another, and more committed to the mission and ministry of this church that has been a beacon of hope to so many for over 145 years. I think we also became more aware of and grateful for what we have and who we are because of the deep sense of loss that we experienced together.
I am so very proud of you and have such confidence in you. I know that you can do anything. It is because of that, I can share with you now that I will be retiring in June at Annual Conference, and a new pastor will be appointed to Oconee Street.
Why now? Scripture says that for everything there is a season. First, there is that sense of your strength and resilience that allows me to step back, knowing that you will be OK and will go on to greater things, supporting your new pastor as you have supported me. But additionally, I believe it is time now for me, at 72 years of age – 72 and ½ by Conference time (but who’s counting?) to spend more time with my family and my grandchildren who are now five and six. I feel very strongly about this, perhaps because my own mother died when my children were 2 and 7. None of us knows the number of our days; we only know that they are held within God’s good hands. And so, I want to spend more time with my boys; I want them to remember their grandma.
I have a few health issues too, but who doesn’t at 72 and so I’ll look after my left knee, gather all my courage, and have knee replacement surgery, work hard at rehab, and come out so much improved that I can enjoy the cruise my son in law has promised me for after Christmas!
I hope in the weeks ahead that we will have time to visit together, to share stories, to talk about the future, and to prepare ourselves for our lives ahead. There will be some tears, but also some laughter along the way. Both are evidence of loving and being loved, and an indication of God’s blessing on us; so I welcome them and I hope you will too.
Maxine, who led us through the rebuilding, is now the chair of our Pastor Parish Relations Committee . We can have confidence that she will lead our transition with the same dedication and sense of service to God and congregation that so characterized her work with the rebuild. We could not be in better hands. Pray for our Pastor Parish Relations Committee, for our District Superintendent and Bishop; pray for me, and above all pray for the new pastor – there is someone out there right now who will be standing here on June 19. How comforting and encouraging it will be for him or for her to know that you have been praying for them since January. I’m already doing that every day.
Thank you for everything, and God bless you.
Lisa Caine, Pastor