As I write my last Consider This, I’m reflecting on the past five years and how our time together is coming to an abrupt end in a very challenging and disorienting way. When we first worshiped together on that glorious Easter morning in 2015, who would ever have guessed that our five years as pastor and people would come to a close in what seems a little like a medieval plague?
As you well know, we are trying hard to make the best of a bad situation by taking care of ourselves, our church and the most vulnerable members of our beloved congregation as well as the ones who need help the most in our larger Birmingham community. The church building has been closed, meetings, bible studies and classes have been canceled. Staff have been sent home to work remotely, and worship is now experienced digitally with livestream. Guess you could call it virtual liturgy via cyber worship! Our pastors can’t even visit the sick in hospitals, homes, Kirkwood or other retirement communities because of the fear of spreading or catching the virus. On top of that, this may be first time in our church’s history that IPC members will not gather to celebrate Palm Sunday, Holy Week or Easter in person! It’s all part of the “new normal.” We are all just hunkered down in a way we never have been before, even after the awful events of 9/11.
I mentioned at the beginning of my first livestream sermon on March 15 that I started preaching 53 years ago in a tiny, little church in Coweta, Oklahoma, which is just outside Tulsa. A big Sunday there was ten people, and that was when the farmer brought his family of five and doubled the size of the normal congregation. I had just finished my freshman year in college when I preached in that church every week for a year. One Sunday there were only three people in the pews. That was back when we gave 30 minute sermons, so I dumped the whole load on them, 10 minutes a piece! Anyway, I’ve preached in lots of churches in this country and around the world between then and now. It seems poetically appropriate that I bookend my preaching career by sharing the Gospel to a handful of people in the pews, all made up entirely by our amazing choir. I do love “preaching to the choir!”
My last Sunday to preach before heading off to real retirement outside of Maryville, Tennessee ( Jane’s hometown by the way) will be on April 26. Then we will slip away and be gone for good. It will be odd not to see any of you in person except the other ministers, Jeff McLelland and the choir. But please know that Jane and I will hold you in our prayers and in our hearts for the rest of our lives.
Also, in the Providence of God, I do believe the best is yet to be for IPC!
All the best,