Retirement. I’ve looked forward to it for a long time. Stop the world, I want to get off. I didn’t know what the final party would be like. Will there be marching bands, music blaring, horns blowing, dogs barking, women fainting and the flag flying at half staff? No. None of the above crossed my mind. Instead, my eighth and last retirement came and went without a whimper; just the way I wanted it. Little did I know that I would have a wonderful send-off by the good folks at Pineville’s Pleasant Grove United Methodist Church, complete with a covered-dish dinner, gifts and plenty of hugs. Just the way I like it!
God has blessed me with 64 years of service as a pastor. It’s a great way to spend a lifetime. In the last sermon in June, I spoke from the text in Isaiah 61: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news.” Let me approach this with a question/answer format that came from an interview several years ago, after my fifth retirement (with a little updating):
Q: What were some of the influences that led you to be a pastor?
A: When I was 12, my mother bough a Egermeier’s Bible Story Book from a traveling salesman. I was hooked; especially on some of the stories in the Old Testament. Also, I kept having a gnawing feeling that this was what I was supposed to do, although a big part of me wanted to be a college professor. I struggled with this two years.
Q: When did you actually make the decision?
A: I spent two years in the Navy, aboard a Destroyer Escort in the North Atlantic. I was a radar man, and our job was to look for enemy submarines. That’s when I learned how to pray.
Q: What did you pray for?
A: I prayed we wouldn’t find any. Anyway, I made the decision late one evening after I was discharged, and enrolled in Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi. The reason I struggled is that I have never felt adequate to be a minister. A friend helped when he said, “Who is adequate?” If God has to have a perfect person to do God’s work, it will never get done.
Q: What did your family and friends think about it?
A: Well, some of my friends went into shock. My family was happy about it. My dad said, “I’d rather you would be a preacher than president of the United States.” I replied, “Dad, I didn’t know I had a choice.” Until the day he died, I was his preacher-boy.
Q: What was the most humbling experience you’ve had?
A: The most humbling experience is just to stand in the pulpit and try to interpret God’s Word. I would usually wonder if I said it right, or if it made any difference to anyone. It’s a scary thing. And when you try to live up to what you’ve said in the pulpit, and there are times when you fall short. That’s one reason I’ve taken up art. You can see the results almost immediately, and I don’t have to sweat the results.
Q: How about your most amusing experience?
A: I’ve had many, but this happened in Alexandria when I was the pastor of FUMC. I went to visit Miss Evelyn, one of my sick parishioners. I didn’t have a coat and tie on. The new “sitter” came to the back door after I knocked. She looked at me dubiously. I told her that I would like to visit Miss Evelyn. “Do you have any credentials?”, she quizzed. As I was searching for a calling card, she interrupted, “Well, can you quote Scripture?” I just stood there, not thinking of a single verse. Finally, I said, “Jesus wept, and I will, too, if you don’t open this door.” She laughed and opened it.
Q: Will you still be available for weddings and funerals?
A: Generally speaking, yes. But if it involves a church setting, the invitation to officiate or help with a wedding or funeral will need to go through the senior pastor. That’s just protocol. And I will continue writing this column as long as I am invited to do so.
Q: What’s the greatest truth you’ve learned?
A: That’s an easy one. The greatest truth is the undeserved, unmerited Grace of God, who loves us anyway. It’s a little like romantic love. Somebody loves me just as I am. This is not “cheap grace”; it’s unconditional love.
I am one of the most blessed people on the face of the Earth. All of my dreams have come true…and then some! I plan to stay busy until the final whistle blows, although right now I am a little “trifling”. And when time does run out, I want a celebration of music, dancing, food and lots of hugs and laughter that will put the other retirement parties in the shade. And the flag fly at full staff. Amen.