Thanks for a Special Day

Steve & Shirley

Steve & Shirley

Today was my last Sunday in the pulpit as the pastor in charge of a local United Methodist Church. I may preach in a United Methodist Church again, but I will never be the pastor in charge. I have approached this day with mixed emotions, and have them still.

You made the day much easier for me with your laughs, with the children’s time being so exciting and good. The hard part was the music… the music is always good… today it was extra special – especially with having that old guy from Hickory joining the choir.

Certainly the piece of music and the signatures made that extra special. I have sought to be faithful and have some times succeeded. But for you to understand that my motivation was for all of us to be faithful is deeply touching. I will find a special place in my study to display “Keepers of The Faith.” It will be a place where it will constantly remind me of you… and that will make me remember how lucky I am to have served with you.

I want to thank those people who traveled from other churches and places to be here to share in this last Sunday. You will never know how much that special effort touched us. Thank all of you for allowing us to enter your home, life, heart and spirit. Thank you for allowing us to be the ones you called when you needed a word of encouragement. Thank you for forgiving me when I failed you and for continuing to be my friend and part of my family.

God’s speed to all of you as you move into and through this transition. Know that God is walking with you and holding you very close as you take these steps. Seize all that God has in store for you and God will richly bless this church.

I will miss you. I thank God for you. I will never forget you.

Grace and Peace

Steve

Jesus Will Be With Us

Steve & Shirley

Steve & Shirley

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. … Isaiah 43:2-3a.

A few years ago the Chinese government finished construction on a giant dam. When work was done and the great gates were closed, the water behind the dam rose and flooded the valley behind. One-time hills were transformed into islands, which grew smaller as the water came up. On these shrinking pieces of property the wild animals took refuge. The government knew this would happen and had made plans to save those wild beasts. A small armada of small boats had been brought in and were equipped with ropes, snares, nets and cages. The hardy souls manning those vessels set out to visit the islands and save the animals. It was a wonderful idea.

Do you know what happened? Well, I can tell you what didn’t happen. The animals did not race to the lifeboats yelling, “Take me! Take me!” No, unbelievable as it sounds, the wild creatures resisted capture. When they were caught, they fought back — even to the point of total exhaustion. Many of the rescuers were bitten, scratched and bruised, as they tried to save the ungrateful little beasts. Some of the more powerful and skillful of the animals eluded their rescuers or, if they were captured, they managed to escape.

Others, rather than being captured, launched themselves into the rising water and ended up dying. In their superior wisdom, the men knew what was best, but the animals were unable to understand.

In many ways, the story of those animals, is our story too. Let me ask, what do people do when difficulties, tragedies and problems come their way? What are the common reactions to the rising waters of life? What do people do when their islands get smaller? Many of them follow the example of the animals. Their first reaction is to save themselves by climbing toward higher ground.

That may work for a while, but if the pressure keeps coming, it’s only a temporary solution. Life is such that there are times when, no matter how hard a person works or how high they climb, the rising waters of life will sweep them away. Other people, like the animals, try to make a swim for it. They try to get as far away from the problem as they can. They don’t realize they are struggling against overwhelming forces. Isaiah wrote, we know when we pass through the waters Jesus will be with us.

Dear Lord, grant that my faith in Jesus may be unstoppable and unshakable. May I always know that I may turn to Jesus when the waters are rising, knowing that he will always be there. Amen.

Grace and Peace

Steve

P.S. Today loading the car all of a sudden I noticed that my shorts were wet. Come to find out it had nothing to do with being an old retiring preacher but carrying a box in which hummingbird liquid food spilled all over my shorts. To my relief I was not attacked by hummingbirds, but Shirley has now given me a new nickname: Sugar-shorts. Yes, it is time to retire.

Reading A Love Letter

Steve & Shirley

Steve & Shirley

“Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury.  He had come to worship, and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah.”  From Acts 8:26-40

You have to really want to read something to read it in a moving chariot. After all, roads were rough in those days and shock absorbers had not yet been invented. But here is this Ethiopian eunuch returning home from a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, reading from the prophet Isaiah while riding in his chariot. Why was he so engrossed?

Well, the passage he was reading declares God’s special love for those who are mistreated and ostracized. This comes as very good news to the eunuch because he knows something about those conditions. As a eunuch, he was not even allowed inside the temple because he was considered unclean. He had been the perpetual outsider, but now he is reading about how God holds him, and others who are rejected, particularly close.

In his classic, How to Read a Book, philosopher Mortimer Adler wrote this: “There is only one situation I can think of in which men and women make an effort to read better than they usually do.  When they are in love and reading a love letter, they read for all they are worth. They read every word three ways; they read between the lines and in the margins. They may even take the punctuation into account. Then, if never before or after, they read.”

That is why the eunuch is so engrossed in what he is reading. It is as if he is reading a love letter addressed to him and to all who have known rejection. No wonder he is reading for all he is worth. I remember being in Vietnam and looking for letters from Shirley. I would read every word over and over again. They are still in the attic somewhere… even the ones I wrote her. Read a letter to you from God. Read every word… it is a love letter to you.

Dear Lord, next time I read the Bible, inspire me to read for all I am worth, as if reading a love letter, because… well, that’s what it is. Amen.

Grace and Peace

Steve

 

 

Taking Care of The Pastoral Family

Steve & Shirley

Steve & Shirley

Today we had to be in Winston to meet the Duke Energy people to pick up our old freezer. Rising at 5:45 we get to the house at 7:00am and the Duke people get there at 7:05. We worked to get the house ready for Sue’s crew to come in tomorrow to clean the carpets. So we had to have every room with carpet cleared of all our stuff. Our intention was to complete all our moving from the parsonage today. But, alas, that did not take place. We ran out of time and space. We even rented a U-Haul truck so that we could get it all done today. We pulled out of Winson around 8:15 this evening. It was a long, exhausting day. This means that we will be back tomorrow afternoon (probably bare-footed) to finish up with the parsonage and study move. Saturday morning the crew we have hired to clean will come in around 9:00. That should conclude with church officials inspecting the parsonage sometime Saturday afternoon… sign all the forms making sure that all is ready for Robin, James and their family to come into a clean and comfortable parsonage.

I certainly do appreciate all Sue Morgan (our parsonage Chair) has done, and Mike Boland, Mike Caligiuri, Susette Westmoreland, Larry Aldridge, Homer Craig, Julian Blackburn, R.L. Spach, and others who helped to make our parsonage a home for the Fitzgerald’s. I know they will appreciate all the work and planning you have done to make this happen. A lot of work has been done. All the wallpaper has been stripped away and replaced with paint; a chair rail has been added to the dinning area of the kitchen; new mirrors and lighting hardware added to the front bathroom; water leaking into the corner of the basement  has been (hopefully) corrected; all the popcorn ceiling stuff has been removed from the den and hall, smoothed and painted; and a new concrete pad for the AC to rest on has been redone to run the water away from the house.

As you can see, Pine Grove cares about their pastor and the home which they will make in the parsonage. Thank all of you for caring for your pastoral family in such a special way.

Grace and Peace

Steve

Find Yourself In Retirement?

Steve & Shirley

Steve & Shirley

When asking people what to write about someone suggested writing about how to handle retirement? WOW… I don’t retire until after Sunday. I don’t have a clue on how to handle it. But people have been giving me advice. Remember at my roast Glenn said I would find out in retirement that I have too much wife. I am finding that out already. (Excuse me, I, Shirley, may find out that I have too much husband. Maybe we can pretend to be newlyweds and CAN’T have too much of each other.) Actually we have spent more time together in preparing for this move than we have in any of the rest. Some have said take the first six months and travel everywhere we have ever wanted to go. We can’t do that because we care for our grandchildren. We may take day trips to do some ancestry research and reconnect with family. But that will be about it. Our first six months to a year will probably be taken up in digging out of super hoarder-ville.

Perhaps we need to first come up with some understanding of what we want from retirement. Many people I know, after a few months, volunteer at the hospital, food bank, Urban Ministries, or some other place where they can take some free time and make it meaningful time. I have been doing some thinking and have come to know that one thing I do not want to lose in retirement is a meaningful, purposeful life. I want to continue to matter.

So, I am going to find something that brings me meaning… something that matters to me and others… something that will bring them meaning, as well.

I do plan on fishing, having fun, sleeping when I want to, exercising and living healthier. I plan on relaxing and taking things easier. But the meaning has to be there or the other stuff will lose their significance… and so will I.

As you approach retirement find out what you want to be… what you need to be. Don’t lose yourself in retirement… find yourself in retirement and you will enjoy each day more and remain more alive as long as you live.

Grace and Peace

Steve

How about sharing what you may want to do in retirement. It just may give the rest of us some really good ideas.

I Have Fallen and I CAN’T GET UP!

Please read about Lee Perkins.

I Have Fallen and I CAN’T GET UP!

Steve & Shirley

Steve & Shirley

First thing this morning I received an email from Mary Council informing me that Lee Perkins was in Forsyth Hospital, he had a stroke, and was asking for me. Remember, it was a little over three years ago that Lee had a fairly severe stroke, went through rehab in the Wilmington area and recovered very nicely.

On the way to the parsonage this morning I stopped by the hospital while Shirley continued on to the house. When I peeked into his room Lee was nowhere to be found. After a few moments a nurse came by and I asked about Lee. I was informed that he was down having tests – several tests that would probably take some time. I decided that I would come back and visit later on this afternoon.

I went on to the church, worked on the bulletins, and a little on the sermon, and then went over to help Shirley at the parsonage. We were able to almost finish packing up the kitchen. We worked at the parsonage till around 6:00pm and then she headed for the mall and I to the hospital.

I found Lee in his room wanting ice chips. But I also found how serious his stroke was this time. It seems that Lee had been in his basement since maybe Thursday or Friday some time, and was not found until Sunday afternoon. He would not have been found then had it not been for the fact that he was a regular church goer and had a friend (Mary Council) who missed him not being at church. Chris and someone else went to the house and found him, 911 was called, and he was taken to the hospital.

The really sad news is that Lee failed the swallow test, will need a feeding tube, and will be sent to either a nursing home or hospice. He is paralyzed on his right side, has trouble talking, cannot swallow, and has some paralysis on the left side of his face.

I cannot imagine laying in the basement from Thursday night (perhaps) till Sunday afternoon unable to move enough to get to a phone, to food or water. Would his prognosis have been better had he been noticed right away… we may never know? My heart goes out to Lee and his family and friends. The decision about the next step should be made sometime Wednesday.

Let me make a suggestion to anyone who is living alone and is in the parameters of having a TIA or stroke – please, please consider one of those medical alert buttons you wear around your neck. If something were to happen, it may be the way you can communicate with someone who could save your life or get help there quickly enough to lessen the severity of your travail. Please consider this or a way someone will check on you every single day.

Dear Lord, please be with Lee and his family. Guide them to good and frank discussions with the medical professionals who can bring this family to a better place of comfort and peace, in and through Jesus. Amen.

Grace and Peace

Steve

Moving Aches and Pains

Steve & Shirley

  Steve & Shirley

Yesterday afternoon, after getting home from Junaluska, Stephen and Joy and the kids called to say they had the trailer and would meet us in Winston to help move some of the bigger stuff. We spent several hours loading the trailer and filling both cars with boxes we had already packed.

We finished up close to nine last night. (That means we got the boxes in the house – a house which now resembles a house that would appear on “Entreme Hoarders.”)

This morning we bounded out of bed (bounded now means very slowly, with creaking noises and groans we fell out of bed and laid on the floor till we regain consciousness enough to crawl to the nearest chair and pull ourselves up.) After about an hour of waking up (which also consisted of a lot of groaning), putting on clothes – checking each other to make sure we had on the proper clothes and that every thing was covered up. After passing the test we headed for Winston to start packing again.

We spent the day packing the kitchen and the bathrooms, plus gathering a few other items from many different places around the house. At 5:30 some people came to pick up items they had purchased 23 days before at Shirley’s Garage Sale. It took them a couple hours to load the furniture and other items they had purchased.

Around 7:00pm we headed for home, ordered pizza, and am now getting ready to run through the rain room and crash in that sweet goodnight… knowing that tomorrow morning we start it all over again. This time there will be pillows in the floor beside the bed.

Would you believe it if I said “I really don’t like moving… and I really don’t like it a lot.” I should have taken the hint this morning when Shirley turned the wrong way? But if I had, we would not have accomplished all we did today.

Stay tuned… perhaps tomorrow will be better and we will accomplish much more.

Grace and Peace

Steve

Breaking in Line

Steve & Shirley

Steve & Shirley

Well, it is Conference Sunday and all United Methodists in the Western NC Conference knows what that means… heading home from Junaluska… it is traffic… it is eating somewhere around Hickory… and it is getting back home.

This week at Junaluska was about getting out among the people. Boy are we ever doing that now. The traffic today reminds me of the traffic in the early 70’s (when they were working on the road between Asheville and Junaluska) when it was bumper to bumper and as slow as it could be, especially on Conference Sunday afternoon… better bring snacks.

I’m not sure why it was so congested and slow today, but when we came to Hwy 26 to Hendersonville the entrance ramp was backed up for a mile or more. Go figure? Things seem to thin out for a little while and then came this warning sign “LEFT LANE CLOSED AHEAD.” What most of us did was to start preparing to get in the proper lane. But for others those words “LEFT LANE CLOSED AHEAD” drove them crazy. As we were slowing down to get in the right lane these people raced down the other lane to get in front of everyone else. After a while it was so annoying to the 1st Air Cav truck and trailer behind us that he pulled out and straddled the white line in the middle of the road… blocking traffic from racing by. I guess he got tire of people passing him… not following the rules?

I started thinking what is it about those people who do not follow the rules of common courtesy, the ones who think that it is more important for them to get to their destination quicker than any of the rest of the people, the ones who make us mad as fire? What is it about them? Or is it about us?

I do believe there is in the American Psyche some sort of drive to get ahead of the pack even if it means going against the common convention of being courteous, respectable, follow the rules of making it to the top, or just being nice. And I further believe that we feel that every time someone breaks the rules and rushes ahead it pushes us back in our turn of making it. We see it in the work place, in the church, in the pastorate and how some people are appointed with a $30,000 increase while we are told $2,000 is the most the conference offers (turnip truck – yesterday). If we let it, it will demoralize us to the point where we either start playing some political game to get ahead or stop believing the Conference really cares about you. Both get in the way of real ministry.

I remember many years ago when I became aware of this equity. A pastor of a failing 138 member church was appointed as the senior pastor of a 1,200 member church… with a tremendous jump in salary. I mentioned to my District Superintendent how demoralizing that was to all the rest of the hard-working, life affirming clergy in the conference who will never even be noticed by the conference. I was told the Bishop makes the appointments.

Shirley and I decided instead of worrying about that other lane, we were just going to enjoy the view and the privilege of the moment we found in the lane that believed common courtesy to all people was important, and integrity was required to be the person we were called to be. We got home a little later than some of those in the fast track… but we got home. And what’s more important, we enjoyed the drive and kept our integrity in tack.

Grace and Peace

Steve

Passing the Mantle

Steve & Shirley

Steve & Shirley

It is Saturday night at Annual Conference and everyone knows what that means… the ordination of Elders and Deacons. Have you noticed an ecclesiastical progression during the week? First there was the recognition of the new provisional members and their commissioning (the first step on the conference level toward ordination). The next day us old fogies – 41 of us retired from active ministry – we made room for those coming after us. And now tonight, after years of study and examination by the District Committees and the Conference Board of Ministry, we ordained Elders and Deacons to serve God and the Church. The mantle of responsibility, accountability and creativity with Jesus has been recognized and approved by the church.

Now these new Elders and Deacons will take their place in the ranks of leaders in the church and will be the one who we lead the church for the next generation. The process renews itself every year: commissioning, retiring, ordination.

With every new group of young men and women the church is renewed. They continue to tell the “Old, Old Story of Jesus and His love” in a new, new way. There are two people being ordained Elders tonight that have special meaning to me: Charles Lindquist, a former member of mine at West Bend in Asheboro, a former Marine, and former Highway Patrolman and present pastor at Ramsuer UMC, and Drew McIntyre, who grew up in Clemmons is the present pastor at West Bend. Both of these dedicated servants now have received from God and the Church the mantle of leadership and authority.

I invite you to join them and the conference in praying for them and God’s success through them each and every day. God’s speed, my friends, God’s speed. When the times get tough and the road seems rough, remember God has called you, ordained you, empowered you, and continues to walk with you every step of the way. Enjoy all God has in store for you.

Grace and Peace

Steve

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