Since eUpdates that I write usually precede Sundays when I will be preaching and this Sunday will be my last at IPC, this will be my last eUpdate.
I want to take this opportunity to say thank you to all of you for your love, support and encouragement to both Jane and me for these past five years. Seems like only yesterday I came here to preach on that glorious Easter Sunday in April 2015. The time has just flown by! Guess it seems to do that the older we get. Jane and I will turn 72 this year (almost halfway through the “new middle age” by the way, which is 60- 90); we definitely understand how fast time goes now. I remember telling you about a woman in my Dallas church who was 101-years-old. As I visited her just before she died, I asked her if she had any advice for those of us who are younger. She smiled and said, “Yes. You know how time seems to go faster the older you get? Well, from my perspective at 101, it seems like life has lasted about a minute, so treasure every moment with your family and your friends.” I thanked her for that good advice then prayed her into heaven right after that.
So, Jane and I are treasuring the friendships we have made at IPC and hoping that you will too. Jane has always enjoyed getting to know everyone and getting involved in many activities in the life of the church. Just as in Richmond, Dallas, Pittsburgh and now here, she has moved in her own quiet way through church or seminary making her presence known in a humble and loving way. It was fun watching the Knitting Ladies do a “drive-by goodbye” up 31st Street the other day in appreciation for the way she has touched their lives. Jane is thankful for the ways they have touched hers.
I am also thankful for the ways you have touched my life, even when we found ourselves in disagreement over this issue or that. Just as in a healthy marriage or working relationship, there’s not always agreement, but at the end of the day, our love for each other in Christ outweighs whatever might separate us.
After 10 years of not preaching every Sunday to the same congregation, which was my life at Pittsburgh Seminary, I was eager to accept the opportunity to deal once again with the joys and challenges of the relentless regularity of Sunday. Every church I have served, whether in Richmond or Dallas or here, has always helped me improve as a preacher, and you have certainly done that. Mentoring, coaching and teaching seminary students and pastors to preach (which I’ve done since 1976) is one thing, but diving in there and doing it yourself is, like a football or basketball coach joining the players on the field, is quite another. And that’s exactly what I’ve done again for the past 5 years. It’s been an honor to preach to such an alert, educated and attentive congregation, and I will always be grateful for that.
Speaking of mentoring students, I’m really pleased that your new Interim Pastor, Dr. Steve Goyer, is a former student of mine, having taken the last Greek class I taught at Union Seminary in Virginia back in the summer of 1983 before I headed off to a 22 year pastorate in Dallas. Steve and his wife, Anita, have deep roots in Birmingham. Having served as senior pastor of large churches, most recently Riverside Presbyterian Church in Jacksonville, FL (he just retired there last July), he is fully prepared to take on the challenge of leading this wonderful congregation for the next year. You’re going to love getting to know him and Anita! I’m so thankful that Steve responded positively to the Interim Search Committee’s and the Session’s call to be IPC’s Interim Pastor starting May 1. It’s going to be great to pass the baton of leadership to him this week.
I want to say thank you also to IPC’s amazing staff. I hope the membership and leadership here recognize what great talent, skill and love for you all this staff has. A deep commitment to Christ and love for the Church is evident every day in this remarkable group of God’s servants. I can’t imagine having done my job without them for this past five years. The best part is they are also fun! An example of that is when Highland Hall was renovated I lost my private pastor parking spot. We’d been out of town, and at the next all staff meeting they were giggling and when I asked them why they took me around to show me my RESERVED PASTOR's PARKING sign (pictured below) had been hung just above my toilet in the pastor’s office! It remains there to this day for Steve Goyer. Get ready, Steve. You’re going to enjoy working with this staff!
Jane and I will bid you all a fond “virtual” farewell after worship this Sunday as we hop in two cars and head north to our place outside of Maryville, Tennessee with a sheep farm next door and views of the Smoky Mountains. Fortunately, our “big move” occurred a month ago, so we’ve been camping out on an air mattress and a mat on the floor with a few dishes and few clothes. It will be nice to be back to a real bed! I will continue to work from Maryville for the last four days of April since IPC staff members are mostly “working from home” these days. I will be “Zooming” through a couple more meetings AND I will finish my birthday calls, often the best part of my day! There’s only one birthday on my last day, April 30, so I guess that will complete my work once I make that call. IF your birthday is April 27-30, and you get a call from a 214 area code (mine starts out 214-215…) it will probably be your old pastor telling you one last time, “I just wanted you to know that I’m glad you were born!” Our address up there in case you’re interested is 4048 Sevierville Road, Maryville, TN 37804. If you’re up that way and want to see us, give us a heads up and we will be glad to see you. Our common email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stay safe and “be careful out there!” Jane sends you her love as we depart, and I do too!