Rev. Dan Thompson-Aue
As I retire, I have many feelings and too many thoughts to express in a short farewell message. So I’ll choose from the many a few feelings, and a few thoughts, not necessarily in any order.
I have now cleared out the pastor’s study to make space for your new pastor. As I did so, I found, tucked away on shelves and in cupboards, treasures that represent my memories from my years of pastoral ministry. But in all those items, one small booklet stood out.
Rev. Carl Mason served as pastor of Forest Grove Methodist Church when you celebrated your golden anniversary in 1960. The book describes the pre-history of this church, its first members, original and then current buildings, its many programs, and the congregation’s dreams for the future, which included purchasing the nearby city block. There are still a few people in the church who remember worshipping in the old building at 18th and Birch. A few even remember Pastor Carl, and I am one of them.
I met Pastor Carl when I began attending a United Methodist Church in Springfield, Oregon, in the mid 70’s, which he then served. He was the first United Methodist pastor I encountered, and he made a good impression on me. I remember his energy, intelligence, his good humor, his sweet tenor voice, and his balding head, and that he was on the short side, like me. I knew many other clergy over the years, but as my first acquaintance he made a positive imprint on me as I was finding my way into the Christian life as a teenager well over forty years ago. He became the image of my future.
I have now, officially, been a United Methodist pastor for over forty years. That time, in retrospect, feels much like a long wandering in a wilderness as the world has kept changing around us and is changing, still. Now, standing on the verge of my next chapter, I wonder if Moses felt like I do, looking out on the promised land as Joshua and a new generation lived into God’s promise. I wonder, though it doesn’t matter, if I would have done some things differently if I’d known, forty years ago, how much the world had already changed and how deep was the challenge of the church to adapt. I also look back with wonder that forty years is a long time, and it goes by fast.
Folks celebrating the vitality of this church back in 1960 anticipated that the church would continue to grow. They did not know . . . how could they know? . . . what the world would be like very soon, one consequence being that people no longer flocked to churches, and the ministries of all kinds of gatherings would begin to decline.
But it has happened; the world is different now, and the church must change. I do like to think that younger clergy taking leadership are akin to Joshua, ready to lead you out of a wilderness of wandering and across the river into something long awaited, but also, perhaps, forgotten until now.
So I guess I think that old stories repeat themselves in interesting ways. God is the author of the best stories, though I have not always understood how. I’m sure God is with you as God has always been and always will be as your story continues.
One of my last memories from my time in Forest Grove came one Sunday morning as I stood in the sanctuary, this time in my clergy robe, greeting people and waiting for worship to begin. One of you who belonged to the early days of the church came up to me and then gave pause for a moment. “Oh! For a moment there, I thought you were Carl Mason.” That, in turn, gave me pause. For both of us, life circled around into one moment. I had a humbling feeling that, as a pastor, I was only filling a role that God needs filling in the church. So I think, always, this whole endeavor of being church is about God and what God wants and what God can do; it is not about my or your or anyone’s accomplishments. So I am at peace.
With that, I bid you Shalom; with thanks for having me as your pastor for a while. Please do keep this Scripture, from Romans 8, in mind for the future:
Who can separate us from the love of Christ? Can affliction or anguish or persecution
or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?
As it is written:
Because of You
we are being put to death all day long; we are counted as sheep to be slaughtered.
No, in all these things we are more than victorious through Him who loved us.
For I am persuaded that not even death or life, angels or rulers,
things present or things to come, hostile powers,
height or depth, or any other created thing
will have the power to separate us
from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord!