“Courageous risks are life giving, they help you grow, make you brave and better than you think you are.” Joan L. Curcio.
Evidently I had no clue what it might be like to retire fully. I waited a year before I attended my last church. When I did show up a dozen members greeted me on the patio. It felt good to have that kind of attention. A month later about six members embraced me and the next time two greeted me and others waved at me while heading to the sanctuary. The office of the pastor shifts rather quickly and I was not taking it very well.
There are retiring pastors who have hobbies, art work or gardening chores to look forward to when making a graceful exit, and life is fine for them. I tried jigsaw puzzles, gardening and art classes and failed in all three. I wound up not finishing the puzzles, killed my plants, and having to draw ridiculous pictures of potatoes and pliers for the art teacher! What’s with that?
It struck me that I needed to have a creative edge in my pensioned years, something that matters deeply in my life. A newspaper columnist in my last church who had published several books suggested that I find a way to write three pages a day until something unique comes to mind. I assured him I had been writing four pages a week on sermons for over 40 years. He claimed that the daily pages might be another form of creative writing, and that turned out to be true.
The author also said daily writing can bring forth something fresh, original and valuable. It occurred to me that the daily writings made a difference in how I distinguished things that I missed while pastoring my churches,
Ralph Keyes, in his book “The Courage to Write,” claims most authors, whether novelists or non-fiction writers, hold back what they honestly feel. I knew I was not revealing what I felt in my sermons. I tipped-towed around my deepest emotions when writing my sermons. No, that’s not true, I would edit out the juicy stuff before preaching it.
When I reflect back on my self-published book it struck me that I didn’t have the courage to reveal what I truly felt about my ministry and life. I played it safe and I wish I hadn’t. Keyes suggests that fear has to be a critical factor in honest writing.
What if I had exposed what I was thinking and feeling during my tenure? I waited until I retired before I risked running deep with my sermons, thinking I would be more daring by preaching at other churches.
Ah, but I did find a way to deal with subterranean sentiments after retiring. I led several retreats with Methodist men from someone else’s church. We dealt with rage, affairs, fear and porn, passions we pastors hold back on our own turf. They were successful ventures that would likely not be revealed to their friends and possibly their loved ones. There had to be members in my churches and other congregations who were dealing with secreted mayhem that we preachers don’t know about or choose to not know.
This is what jumped out at me, and I’m still trying to comprehend it. After I retired I learned that several members in different churches I bumped into in markets or malls were living in hellish relationships. Three women claimed they were being stalked and acting mean-spirited by their prominent husbands in the community. There was no physical abuse but they were definitely living in fear with no way out until divorcing.
I never came across that level of mistreatment among members before retiring. Was there less such tragedies in the past in our laity or has the culture moved us to a point of anger and chaos? Sociologists are finding that fear in our culture is pervasive in our time.
When I served as a street chaplain on Skid Row the encounters reached the deepest emotions in us. I had never experienced those profound bonds in my congregations. I wished I could have bonded with my church members at that emotional level. When active clergy see me coming now they go the other way. I get it.