At least no one has died this time. This goodbye is a somewhat happier occasion, as tomorrow marks the retirement of our senior pastor, a man who led our flock of Presbyterians for the last 20 years, taking the church at a time when it was near death's door and breathing new life into it, growing it to over three times its size in people and program.
We're happy for him, because, as he said at his gala retirement banquet on Thursday, he is definitely "going out on top." He's healthy, relatively young, he's left a good, strong mark in the work he's done. His congregation fervently hates to see him go. It's really the perfect time to ride off into the sunset, in the style of the Western sagas he loves so much.
Another goodbye? Really?
On my way into banquet hall Thursday night, we happened to meet up in the parking lot. "Hey, sweetie!" he said, giving me a hug. "It's good to see you! How're you holding up?"
"I'm hanging in there," I told him, hugging back. "You know, I feel badly that I haven't been in church very much, that I've missed your last few sermons."
"Hey," he said, with his trademark crooked grin. "I know you've had your fill of goodbyes lately."
And that's just one of the reasons we all love this man. He gets people. Understands the human condition, in all it's glory and gloom. Knows that, though he'd prefer to retire quietly with no fuss and fanfare, the congregation needs to fete and honor him six ways from Sunday. So he graciously sits through long pot luck dinners and fancy banquets, he smiles at the jokes and tears up appropriately (and genuinely) at the tributes. He's a good sport when the choir plops a cowboy hat on his head and sings "Happy Trails to You." Because he understands that it's part of the process we need to go through in order to let him go.
One of the speakers at the banquet referred to him as a man "perfectly suited to the ministry." It's a wonder, isn't it, when people can do what they are "perfectly suited" to doing? And it doesn't happen often in this life. I thought about that a lot on Friday, as I sat at my computer at work, typing faxes and organizing files, trying to read the chicken scratch of a doctor's handwriting on this latest medical record review. It's not work to which I'm perfectly suited by any means...although I do it well enough, when I look at it in light of the accomplishments of a man like our minister, it pales to nothingness in comparison.
Of course, nowadays one has to be grateful for having gainful employment at all, no matter how "suited" you are to the occupation. And I'm lucky ~ I pretty much know what I'm perfectly suited to doing, and I still get to do on occasion.
But it would be a fine thing indeed to have spent one's entire career in pursuit of something that fed the soul as well as the stomach, that put fire in the spirit as well as in the furnace. I can say with certainty that Reverend Rick Peters has done that during his 45 years in the ministry. And I wish him Godspeed in the years ahead.
Although I really hate saying Goodbye.