Retirement a new beginning, not an end

Quill FeatherThis is my last week as pastor of Saint Paul Lutheran Church in Stillwater. I am retiring after 40 years of pastoral ministry, only six of which have been here. It has been a privilege and a joy to work in this community and with the good people of Saint Paul Lutheran, as we have sought to be a part of the greater faith community in the Stillwater area. When the world is full of many signs of brokenness, it is a privilege to proclaim the Good News of the Grace of Jesus Christ, and the churches of Stillwater are faithful to this calling.

Personally, the transition from full-time pastoral ministry to retirement is, of course, a major change for me. People often ask if I have plans for retirement. I think my first task in this phase of life is to figure out, as a Christian, what it means to be retired.

I believe that each day is a gift to be used well, and I trust that God has some things in mind for me whether I am employed or not. I fully expect to be used for good, whether as a volunteer, or in some way that I haven’t yet imagined.

As things do change — and with every transition like this — a person asks, “Who am I now?” I anticipate that question a bit, but I know that the fundamental and basic answer for me is that my identity and worth are not in the things I do, but in the identity given to me as a child of God in baptism. Perhaps my first task of retirement is to make sure that I remember that every day.

Henri J.M. Nouwen, in his book, “Creative Ministry,” spoke of retirement as one of those times to celebrate when life and death seem to meet. He said, “Celebration can only really come about where fear and love, joy and sorrow, tears and smiles can exist together.”

Then Nouwen mentions the occasions of life where that happens and speaks of those moments: one’s birth, first day of school, graduation, first job, marriage, parenthood and finally, retirement, and he says, “when we retire we finally have the chance to do what we wanted but lose the support of being wanted.”

I read this more than 30 years ago and have always appreciated the perspective of Nouwen. That last line has been going through my mind a bit as I have gotten closer to the end of my role as pastor. I have loved the work I have done, and I look forward to the freedom of choice that comes with retirement.

But will I, somehow, feel that emotion of no longer “being wanted” or having significance? I suppose it could happen, but that is exactly when I need to remember who I am as a baptized child of God and then actually do some work to figure out what God is calling me to do with the free gift of time that will be defined for me in a new way. Retirement is, after all, a new beginning.

May the Grace of God and the Peace that passes all understanding be in all of your new beginnings.

The Rev. Mark Becker is retiring pastor of Saint Paul Lutheran Church in Stillwater. He gives his last sermon at the church Sunday.