The august air hung still and heavy as my wife and I pulled up to the church we would soon call our home. The windows and doors were wide open, revealing a congregation I had not yet met. The street was blocked for the funeral cortege of a woman named Beth. The familiar words from the ancient hymn of victory rang out: “Jesus Christ is risen today! Allelulia!” This congregation was celebrating the triumph of life over death.
The next day I found myself back in my present pulpit, facing the congregation I would soon leave. The announcement that I had been called to another congregation had been made that week. I preached on the text of the day: Abraham, the faithful man of God, brought out to a country he did not know, in pursuit of God’s promise to him—a blessing of descendants and life and faith. My congregation, usually so alive, was quiet and reflective. Some people cried. Most did not know what to say when I greeted them. “Our loss is their gain,” they said in various ways.
Life and death and moving are inextricably bound together in a minister’s life. His vocation develops in response to a move that may enable the next call. But a move can fill that vocation with pain and confusion. The minister’s identity, clearly defined in the present community of believers, now must die in order for a new identity to come to life. These moments call for mourning and celebration—often at the same time.
I entered into this mysterious paradox as the Holy Spirit struggled to make plain a call from God to move. In the midst of my own dying and rising in moving, I have had to continue to preach, teach, counsel, administer, pray, and play with a congregation that soon will be related to me only by prayer and memory. I must simultaneously begin ...1
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