When I was a new pastor, there was a tradition at our yearly gathering at Annual Conference.
Each retiring pastor was given three to five minutes to address the plenary – some 800 people.
I was so moved by the power of that witness. Here were women and men who had given so much to the movement of United Methodism. They were eloquent and boring, pedantic and poetic. I savored it all and wondered what it would be like to speak a whole lifetime of ministry in three to five minutes.
My husband the Rev. Cooper Wiggen is retiring this year at Annual Conference. He has not been given three to five minutes to speak. Apparently many felt that the utterances of pastoral hearts made for a long listen, so we don’t get to hear those speeches any more. More’s the pity. Instead, Cooper and his wife will be given corsages, Cooper will be given a plaque, and a scant paragraph will be read sprung from the heart of God’s called preacher. There will be cake to eat and hands to shake.
Oh, the lives that have been touched by those retiring: Baptisms and weddings and bread broken and tears shared. How is it that any one soul could be called to be so faithfully open to the souls of others? How is it that Cooper said “yes” to the call to ministry and continued to say “yes” for 42 years? Where does such steadfast faith and tenacity come from?
God calls the craziest souls into community. God calls us each and all to say “yes” to showing up to our lives and to the world. God calls us to offer water and bread, forgiveness and laughter to each other and through that offering our very lives are made whole and alive.
What a wonder.
This I know: I will water my corsage with my tears. I will weep in honor of my husband’s courage and grace. I will thank God for the boom of Cooper’s voice as the gospel was preached and the tender of his soul as he unpacked with others the gift of being human. And, I will thank God for that which is yet to come.
Ministry is a life-long endeavor. We are each forever called.
My favorite poet asks it best: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with our one wild and precious life?” (Mary Oliver)
Through the grace of God we answer the question day by day.
For the newly retired there is a piercing spaciousness to the question.
What is it we plan to do, each and all, with this wild preciousness called life?
Praise God for questions worthy of our heart’s work.