Sabbatical, Day Eighty-Five

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Last night’s sunset.

One of the biggest concerns the elders and I addressed when preparing for this sabbatical was how to assure the members of our community they or their families would be taken care of at the time of a death.  Time and again we answered the question, “Who will do the funerals?”  We answered, “The pastor we hire to work during the sabbatical.”  We also reminded everyone when I am gone on vacation/continuing education the pastors on-call have been the one to officiate funerals.  We did not want to make light of the concern of the community, but we did want to remind everyone there was a time before I was pastor and will be a time after I am pastor.  We wanted them to remember their role as a congregation, the people who stay and care for each other for generations through multiple pastorates.  Even though we wanted them to feel confident we also hoped there would not be a funeral while I was on sabbatical.

There have been two funerals since I have been gone.  One for a community member, and another for a person who was a vibrant and active member of our congregation who experienced a rapid decline in health in the last year.  The funerals were held on back-to-back Saturdays.  I have heard beautiful examples of how the congregation came together and cared for both of these families.  I am thankful for the love and grace demonstrated by people I know who are willing and able to walk beside families in their grief.

I have been away before when there have been funerals of members of our congregation and community.  I have experienced the grief and guilt that come when I am not the person who stands before the community and assures them of the promises we hold dear.  I have experienced the overwhelming gratitude for my colleagues who step in when I am gone, just as I step in when they are gone.  Caring for a community is a team effort and the sharing of that work with my colleagues continues to remind me of the goodness of being a pastor.

Yesterday I walked out to the cemetery to pay my respects for the three people who have died in the last two weeks in our community.  I passed by the graves of people I have known, I recalled the words I spoke and the words I heard my colleagues speak at each graveside.  I stared at the beautiful blue sky and reminded myself at this time and in this place I have been given the privilege to care for others, but I am not the only person.  I am one of many who will spend their years among these people.  I am thankful for the privilege of this time to learn from this community how to love and be loved.  I remain hopeful the people of this community will recognize the gift they have been given in each other and in the pastors who get to spend some time caring for them.

 

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