By Lee Ann Dunlap*
With the final chords of the “Grand Chorus Dialogue” reverberating throughout Hoover Auditorium, the Rev. Kurt Landerholm welcomed the congregation into the Celebration of Retirement and the Rev. Carolyn Berry introduced the first of several video reflections by the retiring class. Faces beamed with fond memories as members named the pastors, church school teachers and local churches that had nurtured the call of Christ in their lives.
“I’ll Praise My Maker While I’ve Breath” sang the congregation, observing, “We have come together here giving thanks for the leadership of those who are retiring from active ministry” while offering prayers that they “be free for new activities and associations.”
Retiring Pastor Everett Stoddard offered the evening’s scripture from Philippians 3:7-16 “forgetting what lies behind I press on . . .”, and Bishop Tracy S. Malone offered words of appreciation on behalf of a grateful East Ohio Conference.
“Think of the difference you have made in so many lives” she encouraged, noting that this year’s retirees collectively shared 868 years of pastoral experience. “All you’ve given and all you have received is blessed,” she said. Ministry in retirement is a change of status, a new season of rest and renewal for the rest of life. Let your light so shine — all for the glory of God.”
“Well Done, Good and Faithful Servants,” echoed the heavenly harmonies of the Conference Choir.
Retirees offered their own wit and wisdom to those who would follow. “Be true to yourself and your call” one advised. “Listen, listen, listen,” said another. And, most importantly, “Ground yourself spiritually,” and “Keep your eyes on Jesus.”
In the spirit of the prophet Elijah, the Rev. Howard Humphress, retiring director of the Office of Pastoral Care then passed the mantle of ministry to the Rev. Dawan Buie, representing the incoming class of Elders.
“Where he leads me I will follow,” pledged the assembly as the retiring class prepared to depart the stage, “to go forth, accepting the ministry to which each is called” through the blessing of the Creator, the renewal of Jesus Christ and the presence of the Holy Spirit, to the end of our days and far beyond.
*Rev. Lee Ann Dunlap is pastor of McConnelsville Grace, Pisgah, and McKendree UMCs in the Southern Hills District.