“We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly remembering before our God your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope…” ~ I Thessalonians 1:2-3
My Dear Siblings, Brothers, and Sisters, This is a hard one to write.
In late summer 2012, my family and I moved back to Northampton after a brief stint in New Orleans. I was in search for a new call, and I was looking for a church to attend until I settled somewhere. I wanted to go somewhere interesting, somewhere different, somewhere that my kid and I could show up and I wouldn’t have to worry about what I was wearing, if I had to hide my tattoos, if I shaved that day, or if my kid was restless and a bit noisy. I wasn’t sure if such a church existed around here.
Then one day, as I was walking my dog down James Avenue in Northampton, I saw a woman get out of a car plastered with UCC, pride, and other enticing bumperstickers. I decided to say hello and introduce myself. Noting her UCC sticker, I told her I was a UCC pastor. Wouldn’t you know it: she was one, too! “She,” of course, was Rev. Dr. Andrea Ayvazian, stopping by her mother’s house just a few doors down from mine. Andrea invited me to come up to Haydenville to worship sometime, and so I did.
Izzy and I began attending Haydenville that fall. I was still on the job search, and it was getting tricky. See, what was making it tricky was that I kept attending Haydenville and began comparing all these other lovely places with all these other lovely people to the vibrant, funky, often-raucous, social justice focused, great-music-having little church. On Christmas Eve 2012, I told Andrea that I had a problem: I didn’t want to serve anywhere but Haydenville. She confirmed that it was, indeed, a problem: there was no job for me at Haydenville!
But that changed in the late spring of 2013 when an Associate Pastor position was created. During July of that year, I had the chance to cover pastoral care, and I got to know many of the folks with whom I had worshipped. Then in August 2013, you all called me to serve as the Associate Pastor.
There is too much to cover between August 18, 2013 and right now. It’s been quite a ride, and so many of you were right there for it as well. And for that, I want to say thank you. Thank you for the times you have invited me into your lives, the times you shared your thoughts, joys, concerns, struggles, and victories with me. Thank you for this opportunity to be with you on this lifelong journey.
What I hold on to most dearly is our time of worship together. One of my goals for my year as your Acting Pastor was to “Widen Our Worship” by bringing in as many different voices as possible. This was (and is) important to me for a variety of reasons. At the core of it all, I believe in the “Priesthood of All Believers” — the idea that each one of us is ordained with gifts for ministry, and we are called to share those gifts however they manifest and in whatever ways we can. That is to say, I do not believe that only ordained people have exclusive rights or access to God. You can pray or read or welcome or invite or serve as well and effectively as I can. It just so happens I went to school for it and I have a fancy title.
I feel great joy when I look over the bulletins from the past year and see that every single worship service was co-led by a team of individuals — not just my voice, but the voices of so many of you who accepted my invitation to be a worship leader. For that, I am grateful. My hope and prayer is that those of you who led worship with me were able to catch a glimpse of God in a new way, and those of you who were in the pews were able to see and hear God in all of God’s varied and diverse faces and voices.
My final Sunday in the pulpit will be January 14th. We will share in the “Liturgy of Farewell for Authorized Ministry” just as we did one year ago when Pastor Andrea retired. And just as we did last year, we know that the Beloved Community of Haydenville Congregational Church will go on.
Many of you have written such kind notes to me since I announced my departure, and I cherish each and every one. Some of you have asked what I will do next. While my immediate plans include finally cleaning my basement and returning to an exercise routine, my churchy-pastoral answer is that I will be discerning where my call is next. I intend to engage more fully in some local social justice efforts, and I will offer my support to my area colleagues for preaching and pastoral care. I’m listening intently for the next call, and I am open to where I might be led. And wherever I go, I will carry a piece of Haydenville in my heart.
Peace & Blessings,