For twelve years (almost to the day), it has been my joy to be the pastor of All Souls Charlottesville, this vibrant, joyful, quirky, serious (sometimes too serious), playful, artful, generous, Jesus-loving church. When folks who should have known better asked Miska and me to move to Charlottesville to help form a new church with a small group of friends, I had no idea. No idea.
No idea the tears I would shed here. No idea the ways my understanding of God and the church and friendship and gospel would be challenged, shaped, stretched. Together, we’ve had bone-wearying seasons, months when I felt lost in a wilderness, times when grief overwhelmed. This Church has practiced lament. And repentance. And confession. And we’ve come to the Table again and again and again, clinging to the promise that we’d be filled with the life of Jesus and the Spirit’s deep, deep waters.
And oh the joy–so much joy, so much delight, so much hope. This Church knows how to throw a party, how to laugh, how to make beauty, how to love. Together, we’ve grown up into something mature and rooted, an oddly-arranged circle always clinging to The Mercy, refusing to let the Good Story go brittle and dusty, insisting that if we’re dealing with God, then we should always expect a hefty dose of both wonder and bewilderment.
For twelve years, one of my favorite moments has been the closing blessing. I look out over those beautiful faces. I catch as many eyes as possible. I linger in silence as long as I think they’ll let me. Then, with all the hope and faith and love in my heart, I speak God’s good words over them.
Soon, our family heads north where I will join the wonderful faculty of Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan. I’ll be teaching and helping to launch/direct The Eugene Peterson Center for Christian Imagination. But I will carry this place, these dear people, in my heart. They have helped to make me the pastor I am. All Souls, you have accepted my shortcomings and allowed me to be myself (at least as much as I’ve known how to be). Thank you. Our hearts will always be intertwined. And we are forever joined in the mystery of bread and wine.
This Sunday, I’ll raise my hands one more time over these good, good people. I’ll take in the beautiful sight. I’ll surely feel the edge of tears. I will give thanks. And I will open that final pastoral blessing with the same words that I’ve opened most every benediction blessing for over a decade: You, dear friends, are God’s beloved…