Kathy's and my written report is printed on pages 6-8 of the Bulletin of Reports. And while I haven't been counting down the days or weeks to our retirement, I have noticed the "lasts." So, this is one more last.
What I have to add can be summed up in one word—gratitude. We are so grateful for all the years we've been privileged to serve as your co-pastors and annually give our report.
One of the things that motivated us to say 'yes' to coming to Messiah back in the summer 1994 was that the congregation had a well-established pattern of loving its pastors over the long haul. Pr. Nelson, our immediate predecessor, served for 16 years. So, when we arrived, we gleefully anticipated a longish tenure, something in the ballpark of maybe 10 or 12 years. Never in our wildest imagination would we have expected 28.
We are grateful for your capacity for change and your depth of trust in us. You allowed so many new things to happen, so many adaptations to take place, and so many new adventures to occur that it felt fresh and new to us with each 7-year cycle—it kept us wanting to keep going here in Vancouver.
We are grateful that you allowed us to lead what became and continues to be, by anyone's estimation, a thriving congregation—as you flexed your spiritual resources and financial strength to gradually and steadily move beyond what many Christian congregations focus on, themselves and their own needs. That kept it exciting for us.
We are grateful for letting us, as your pastors, lead the charge in becoming a teaching and learning congregation for the church. It takes a special group of people to accept the risks, rewards, and required patience to be the training ground for the next generation of pastors and leaders in the church. There's a whole lot of sacrifice and acceptance that goes into that process.
When I received my training to become an internship supervisor, the seminary reminded us it had the students for the equivalent of three years of post-graduate instruction. Our instructors also said that those classroom hours and the seminary's influence on their students paled in comparison to the hours of learning and impact of their internship year. The seminary made it clear that the internship experience forms seminary students into career pastors.
I've never said this in a sermon or revealed it in a small group conversation: I learned a lot at my internship site, while I didn't have a particularly great or well-rounded internship experience. So that you've allowed us to be supervising pastors for 11 pastoral interns, all of whom developed or are developing into great pastors, was a natural next step for us. And knowing they all had healthy, helpful, encouraging, and learning-filled experiences because of you is a true gift.
We know of no other congregation that comes close to developing the number of the next generation of leaders for the church and the world. Considering all the summer interns that entered church work as a first career choice, supported and encouraged by their positive summer experience here, that number is all the more amazing.
We are grateful for your love of our family. Our boys grew up in this church, nurtured and loved by so many of you. I can think of no better community to help us raise them.
Early on, Doug Ruecker finagled (I think he had won an auction at a fundraiser for some other non-profit) to have Michael Allen Harrison play an afternoon concert here at Messiah. Jacob was ten or eleven at the time and the only one around that day to help in the booth. I remember Mr. Harrison sitting with him before the concert, treating Jacob with such respect and thanks for his being there, and then sharing the subtleties of managing the sound for a piano and vocalist. Mr. Harrison publicly thanked Jacob during the concert. Eleven or twelve years later, Jacob graduated with two degrees, one of which was sound engineering, the degree that got him his first job out of college.
Our son Luke, also now an engineer, was heavily influenced by two gentlemen in the congregation, John Laird and Dave Radke, who ridiculously agreed to serve as coaches with me through a six-year stint in the Hazel Dell Little League. We only won the league once, though we never did worse than second place. I remember Dave saying, "We play baseball because it's fun. And I find that I have more fun when we win." The thing is, all the boys on our teams, including Luke, learned important life lessons about resilience, being good citizens, and being successful and influential without being number one and without putting others down. Luke still recalls the details of the important games we won and the important games that we lost.
Kathy and I are grateful. Grateful that you let us work out our marriage in front of you. Despite ourselves, I knew you had succeeded, when one Sunday after worship, a gentleman said to me, "I was thinking that my wife's and my relationship was a little shaky, and then I came to church today, watched the two of you interact, and realized my relationship isn't as nearly broken as I thought. Thank you, pastor."
Seriously, you've carried us through challenging times, both personally and professionally, when Kathy and I needed more than we had to give each other. We are so grateful that we got to be part of this supportive community year in and year out for nearly three decades.
Today, as we emerge from the pandemic and into the new realities of living with COVID, we trust that God, who has always provided the resources and courage to adapt, experiment, and innovate, will continue to do so. God has a history of paving the way, providing the people, and supplying the resources for Messiah to thrive as a community of proclamation of the Gospel and service to the neighbor. Kathy and I are so grateful that we got to be part of that proclamation and service with you for the years we've been your pastors.
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