Has anyone here ever had professional packers? Not the Green Bay kind, but people whose job it is to not just move your belongings, but to actually pack? Thanks to Sam’s new position, we were allocated a moving budget which allowed us this luxury. The plan was for folk to pack up our belongings on Friday, and load the truck on Monday. At 5pm on Thursday, the moving company calls asking…well really more like telling us that everything would be done in one day…which was the next day.
Now, I’m an expert packer. Before seminary I had not lived somewhere more than 10 months in 10 years. The idea of not only getting help, but actually doing very little felt very strange. I mentioned to Tom how odd it felt to see a regular house, but know we were moving in a few days.
Sitting in an empty apartment finishing this sermon, it truly hit me. The process, and ritual of packing has been a part of the way I say goodbye to a place. And this time, this time is so, so different.
We don’t just move our stuff. We move our whole being. Where does the excitement fit in the box with fear? How many times do you wrap your grief before you think it will not break in truck?
When George Washington said goodbye to the country as president, it wasn’t through a massive fanfare or even a sermon. It was through an essay, The Farewell Address, published in a newspaper for the people. It published while George Washington was already packed, heading to Mt. Vernon.
It shouldn’t be a surprise I learned this fact like every good citizen – through the musical Hamilton. Ever since Hamilton swept through our country, I’ve been more curious about our first president. There is a song entitled “One Last Time” which is the conversation between Washington and Hamilton about Washington’s decision to not run for a third term. Some of the lyrics are:
One last time – The people will hear from me – One last time –And if we get this right – We’re gonna teach ‘em how to say Goodbye – You and I
If I say goodbye – the nation learns to move on – It out lives me when I’m gone.
The story behind Washington’s Farwell Address can offer us some wisdom today.
It is not secret now that most politicians have speech writers, people who help craft ideas in to elegant prose. After Hamilton’s untimely death, his wife, Elizabeth, sought to elevate her husband’s status by “proving” her husband actually wrote the Farewell Address. When in reality, it was a collaboration.
In seminary, we are taught to never compare ourselves to Jesus in a sermon, but I never learned a rule about George Washington. Despite not owning a Bible in his vast library, Washington was on to something that religious leaders can learn from. He was crafting his goodbye from the beginning, and he didn’t do it alone.
I have been so blessed to not work alone here. To name all the congregants a part of the ministries throughout the years would take quite a while. But thank you. Thank you for never making me feel like I was in this alone. Thank you for working beside me.
Lena is the best nursery attendant in the history of the world. We have such a talented musical staff with Dylan and Diane. Ann has been so gracious when I never get my Messenger in on time, and has helped cut, glue, and goodness knows what else to help me. Bob has kept our classrooms vibrant.
And I am honored to call Cathy and Tom my colleagues and my friends. The laughter, the tears, and our desire to figure out this Church thing together, those are memories I can’t quite fit in a moving box – but ones that will be with me always.
Ministry is a strange profession. In his Berry Street Essay, a prestigious, essay in the Unitarian Universalist Tradition, beloved minister and preacher Mark Morrison Reed eloquently describes the thistles present in leaving a ministry.
He writes, “You will love your parishioners with all your heart, but never befriend them. You will pour out your lifeblood for the community but never settle there. You shall die to congregation so that the ministry might live.”
Washington’s Farewell Address was originally drafted with James Madison before he ever ran for a 2nd term. And would later painstakingly craft with Hamilton. Washington, like a good minister, was saying goodbye from the beginning. He packed, well his slaves packed, in the middle of the night to make his goodbye a clean cut before retreating to his beloved Mt. Vermon.
And I will make a clear break today. From social media platforms to e-mail, to other forms of communication, I will take my leave today, so that the ministry to our children and families will continue to thrive.
There will be times this leave taking will easy for both of us, and times that are harder. There will be moments when I will be tempted to say at my new church, “Well at MCC we…” and correct myself to say they. There will moments when you are tempted to say, “Well Sandra…” and you will correct yourself to say Stephanie.
We will each ebb and flow from our shared memories. Just like Washington’s Farewell Address has ebbed and flowed in the conscious of our country.
But, just like the musical Hamilton shows us, we can always remember the beautiful music made together. Because, you see – the song is not done.
Washington constantly was reflecting on his legacy, and what he would leave behind – to the point of sleepless nights and temper flairs.
This is where I depart from identifying with our first president. I’m not worried. The legacy I leave here are children and families I’ve walked with for the past four years. Our children know the power of Blessing Hands. They know to be skeptical of easy answers. They know they are theologians. And most importantly they know they are beloved for their whole selves here in this community.
Mark Morrison Reed, again in his Berry Street Essay, captures an essential truth of what it means to grow up in the Church, and what it means to be a minister.
I am at home among these people in this liberal religious movement. It is a place where I was nurtured, and because I was nurtured I grew; having grown, I could give, and having given I grew more. It is a place where struggling, I could fail; where failing, I was still loved, where loved, I could begin again. It is a place where in pain I could go; where, having gone, I was cared for; where cared for, I could heal and go on. That is why I am a minister, to help sustain religious communities – places like the one in which I grew up, places made holy by what people experience within them – the seasons of their lives and the healing of their souls.
And these seasons will continue. And when you, and I, don’t know what to do, we can always turn to our holy text.
Psalm 121 is referred to as The Travelers’s Psalm – appropriate to mark today’s journey. The author assures us we are always in God’s embrace. Wherever we go, whatever we write, however we pack.
So, my beloved, “The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore.