To the people of Poplar Grove United Methodist Church,
Six years ago, my family and I arrived so that my wife could assume the servant leadership role of senior pastor of your congregation. In the intervening years, you have become far more than a congregation of which I have been a member. All of you, even those I have not come to know, have become my church family. With the final days of our time together upon us, you all need to know that I shall hold this time of my life, and all of you, close to my heart.
I have been a member of four United Methodist Churches in my lifetime. First UMC, Sayre, PA, which no longer exists; Centenary UMC, Jarratt, VA; Community UMC, LaMoille, IL; and you. The first, even as it has ceased to minister to the people of Sayre, will always be my home church. At Centenary, along with the beginnings of Lisa's life as a minister under appointment, we started our family. In LaMoille, our family grew and we began our lives as midwesterners. Yet here at PGUMC, our children have spent almost half and two-thirds, respectively, of their lives. Lisa has grown as a pastor. I, for what it's worth, have learned so much from all of you, and will always hold our time together as central to my development and growth as a Christian. In your collective worship, in your service to community and world, in your faithfulness to the best of the Wesleyan tradition of movement toward perfection in love in this life, in your commitment to the central message of the Gospel, you embody what is best about our denomination and its commitment to what Thomas Langford has called "practical divinity".
We move on now to a new life in a new place, among fellow United Methodists. As all partings do, this has that mixture of sorrow and joyful anticipation that make it bittersweet. My most fervent wish, my deepest prayer, is that Paul and his wife Lisa will discover and celebrate with you new growth, not just in members, but in faith; not just in resources, but in commitment to service; not just in programs, but in prayerful reflection upon the possibilities of the life together in faith. I, for one, do not leave with a heavy heart, because I believe that, as we all have been so richly blessed by our life together, so, too, will Paul and Lisa.
The life of a family of an itinerant clergy person is not easy. We must always be ready, in the name of a commitment to the call of the Spirit and the Discipline of the Church, to say goodbye to those who have taken up a space in our hearts. Yet, it is precisely the freedom granted in love for one another, care for one another, that we all can be so bold as to love deeply without fear of the pain of the inevitable parting. I refuse to deny the pain; I also refuse to grant it any power. It is precisely because I have come to know, through my immersion in our life together since July, 2004, just how much freedom there is in living together as a blessed community, that I welcome the opportunity, starting on Wednesday, to begin the whole thing all over again with the people of Cornerstone United Methodist Church in Elgin. Do not think, however, that any of you will be far from my thoughts. All of you have taught me how to be a better Christian, a better human being, a better parent and husband, a better man. With the faith that comes from God the Father, I part from you now believing that we will always be united in the Spirit. While we have all had occasion for tears as we prepared for this moment, my own are tears of joy that I have been privileged enough to be a member of Poplar Grove United Methodist Church.
Go with the blessings of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and know that I will always be grateful for you.