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Farewell from Pastor Peter

Dear church family,

I’ve written farewell letters each time I’ve moved appointments but this one is different, because I am leaving as a retiree this time. I am not only thinking of the past 8 years with you all, but the past 37 years in all of the churches I have been blessed to serve. It has been a wonderful career spanning four decades and four annual conferences (plus a fifth where I went to seminary), serving under seven different bishops. When I entered ministry, staff-centered mid-to-large sized churches were more common than they are today. I am a bit of a dinosaur in that I was sort of groomed for that style of ministry. I have been a lead pastor to 12 associate pastors, was blessed by another two dozen or so lay staff people who were pastors in every way but the official recognition, and mentored about a dozen more people who experienced a call to ministry and went on to become pastors. I served on District committees on ministry and Boards of Ordained Ministry in Arizona and Alaska for about 15 years and had the joy of working with ministry candidates from all across those conferences. I did campus ministry with native Alaskan students in Seward, AK, started a ministry to the homeless in Prescott, organized Crop Walks in Sedona and Seward, remodeled a building in Moose Pass, worked with architects and contractors to build new church buildings in Sedona and Prescott, worked with Filipino families to create ministry opportunities in Anchorage, demonstrated for LGBTQ rights in Anchorage and Olympia, and helped redefine cooperative parish ministry here in Olympia. The ministry teams I helped lead over the years grew exciting mission, prayer, fellowship and worship ministries. I managed million-dollar budgets in three of the churches I served. I attended a lot of meetings and preached a lot of sermons and wrote a lot of newsletter articles and organized a lot of ministry teams There was never a dull moment and I look back fondly on all the work of ministry. I got to be pretty good at running a church.

But in the end, the memories that I will cherish the most have very little to do with the size of the building and the scope of the church program (the things that seemed inevitably to define my calendar) but are rather the quiet moments with church members in times of joy and sorrow. Crying with a young woman after a miscarriage and then a few years later on the same floor in the same hospital meeting her healthy newborn. Telling a 3-year-old that his daddy isn’t coming home. Being at the bedside of an octogenarian when he gave his family instructions to unplug the machine that was helping him breath. Standing with a grieving family in the Washington rain, or the Arizona sun, or the Alaska snow at a graveside service for a family patriarch. Handing communion bread to a woman with tears streaming down her face. Saying “I now pronounce you husband and wife” more times than I can count. Feeling the water trickle through my fingers onto the head of an infant being baptized. Praying with a spouse in an ER or ICU waiting room. Counseling the young sailor who couldn’t save a drowning victim. Presiding over a house blessing for a family of recent immigrants. Attending a church member’s naturalization service. Praying with a church member in my office after having a deep conversation about how God is at work in his or her life. Singing “For All the Saints” at the top of my lungs on All Saints Sunday after reading the list of names of those who died in the previous year. Confirming the youth of the church at the altar. Getting a hug from a five-year-old after worship on a Sunday morning.

It has been a rich and rewarding 37 years under appointment as a United Methodist pastor. As I prepare to let it go, I think of the feeling I get every Christmas Eve when I turn out the lights and am the last person to leave the building on that holy night. I am always tired to the bone, but it is a good tired, a holy tired, and I know that the people who have worshipped with me on that night, holding candles aloft and singing “Silent Night” together, were well-fed by this thing we call church. God is so good, and I am so blessed. Others will now lead, and I will rest, rejoicing in the knowledge that it was never about me, but about the God who somehow managed to work through me and the way that God was made real in each of you. Thank you, people of Olympia First UMC, for being my faith family for the last eight years. You have been a blessing to me Now, go and be the church. Amen.

Blessings,
Pastor Peter

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