In November I had the privilege of being the guest preacher at Wedgewood United Methodist Church. Wedgewood is the church where I spent the bulk of my ministry. I was there for 21 years and I have very fond memories of the people and ministries of the church. In fact, many of the regular readers of the blogs are parishioners from Wedgewood. They wanted to know how to keep track of our travels after we retired, so I started the blog, essentially, for them.
November 21 was the first time I had been the guest preacher at Wedgewood. I was waiting for an invitation from Pastor Joe Burkhardt, the current pastor at the church. When I asked him about it at Nick and Amanda Varga’s wedding in May, he said he was waiting for me to offer. Shortly after that, he extended the invitation to come back in November. Which left me plenty of time to think about the sermon.
When you are a guest preacher several times a year, as opposed to a regular preacher every week, you have plenty of things you want to say when you get a chance. After 30 years of preaching weekly, you get in the habit of filing away possible sermon subjects and approaches. So I had lots of possible subjects in mind. Except that Sunday, November 21, was the Sunday before Thanksgiving. Despite other ideas, it seemed like I really needed to preach about giving thanks – and that is what I did.
Being back felt odd and normal, both at the same time. The church building looks much the same, although the sanctuary has a lot more screens than it did. They also broadcast the 9:30 worship service online, so there was a camera. If you would like to watch the service, you can view it here.
The congregation was a mix of familiar faces and new folks. With it being the weekend before Thanksgiving, there were some folks missing that I had hoped to see. But there were still plenty of people that I knew and, even with the masks on, I recognized and remembered the names of everyone I should. The people who had changed the most, of course, were the children who have grown up in the 7.5 years since I retired. If they hadn’t been standing by their parents, I might not have recognized some of them.
I started talking to people as soon as Tom and I entered the church, about 40 minutes before the service started. Then I preached and talked during the 9:30 service. After the service, I continued to talk to people until the 11:30 service started. So many people to catch up with – to hug – to greet – and to meet. After the 11:30 service I talked to more people until 1 p.m. when we finally left the building to go to lunch with our friends Steve and Pam Varga. By the time Tom and I got in the car to head for home I was talked out and tired.
As we drove home, I reflected on how easy it would be to return to parish ministry. To go from being an occasional guest preacher to preaching every week. The rhythm and routine of ministry gets in a pastor’s blood and doesn’t leave just because you retire. I love the intimate connection a pastor has with people’s lives. But I am not seriously considering returning because I also don’t want the demands that come with the job – the evening meetings, the early mornings at the hospital, and the weekly worship preparations. I am very happy being retired and occasionally getting to zoom in and preach for a day. All the perks and none of the problems.
The ministry of a congregation is very important to the body of Christ. Participating in worship and service through the church is the primary way that most of us serve Jesus in our lives. I was privileged to serve as the pastor of the Wedgewood congregation for 21 years and I am thankful for Pastor Joe’s leadership now. I am also thankful that, wherever I am, there are faithful people continuing the work of Jesus Christ in the world.