(published in the Auburn Citizen March 19, 2023)
When I arrived in Auburn seven years ago, I wrote my first article for The Citizen, saying, “This place is going to change me. It’s going to show me God.”
In that time, I have pastored my first congregation, Westminster Presbyterian Church. I have become a father to two beautiful children whom we adopted and to six others in heaven. I have learned the lakes, woods and waterfalls of this verdant country. I have enjoyed the hospitality of neighbors, movies in the park, and the fairs and festivals that so evoke Americana. I have walked in the footsteps of Harriet Tubman, William Seward and a history brimming with the ongoing fight for equal rights. I have witnessed the creation of LGBTQ Pride Week and the drop-in center for teens, Pride House. I have had the privilege of touching many hands — in sharing food at a soup kitchen, in praying over the dying, in officiating weddings and baptisms, in rehoming victims of domestic violence, in counseling the grieving, in kneeling for George Floyd and the insistence that Black Lives must matter.
Much has happened — more than I can name here. But, among it all, what remains with me the most is the love of the people. You. I’m talking about a people whose lives are busy and full of problems of their own, and yet who again and again show up for each other, to care for one another.
Oh I’ve seen plenty of the bad too. I am a Presbyterian minister (a Calvinist ... ooh) after all. I’m well aware of our sinful capacities for selfishness, hate and cynicism. I was there when they tried to ban the book "All Boys Aren’t Blue," when someone vandalized our Black Lives Matter banner, when we were collecting school supplies for children and people walked past us, refusing to donate, when more pews were empty than full on Sunday morning, and when more and more of our neighbors fell to poverty, homelessness, addiction and mental health challenges.
In each case, however, love refused to cease its song. For, I have also seen a school board meeting crowded with people defending free speech and the power of learning each other’s stories. I have seen, in the wake of one vandalized sign, hundreds more appear in the lawns and storefronts of Auburnians. I have seen the smiles of children as volunteers distribute more than 500 backpacks stuffed with school supplies. I have seen passionate worship and the curious, delightful wrestling with the questions of our faith. I have seen suffering people walk through the doors of our church, and volunteers greet them as if Jesus Christ himself had just entered.
In short, this place has changed me. It has shown me God. For, God is Love. And now that God of Love is taking me elsewhere. I will be concluding my time as Westminster’s pastor.
When my Mom died three years ago of a sudden heart attack at 69, it hit home to me the fragility of life. Though I rationally knew otherwise, I think I assumed that my family would always be there — or at least be there longer. I am reminded of the charge my pastor in Cincinnati would speak at the end of each service, based on the words of Henri Frédéric Amiel: “Friends, life is short, and we do not have much time to gladden the hearts of those who make the journey with us. So be swift to love, and make haste to be kind.”
This summer, my family and I will be moving in with my Dad, in Cincinnati, to care for him. We will be closer to family. Emerson and Josephine will get to know their grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles more deeply. Jenna will get to focus on her vocation and career, as she will be the one this time pursuing full time ministry. I’ll be focusing on being a father and being a son. This will be a time for growing closer to my Dad, helping him with the house and his health, and grieving together. I might do some writing, some volunteering. I am looking forward to worshiping as a family. And then, when the time is right, I’ll discern what ministry God is calling me to next. But for now, I am excited to dwell in the holiness of relationships, to be swift in the same love I have experienced here in Auburn.
I will miss you. A lot. I find hope, however, in the thought of all the people (yes, even the pastors) you will change and show God. I find hope in the God of Love who remains here, waiting for the next person to arrive.