A bittersweet 25th anniversary

St. John, Port Hope

I’m a mostly happy person these days. My children and grandchildren are well and thriving. I am healthy, and at age sixty-four can continue to do the physical things I enjoy, namely jogging, gardening, and yardwork. I am pleased to have become a writer, have published two books that have been received well, and have two more in the editing process, including my first novel. Oh, and I can’t forget that I’ve learned how to cook, and love, love, love it.

Best of all, I enjoy the faithful love of the Lord Jesus and the abiding love of my wife Julie.

I have a full, splendid, blessed life. So, no complaining here.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

June 23, 2021 marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of my entrance into the holy ministry, when I was ordained at Trinity Lutheran Church in Guttenberg, Iowa, and then installed at St. Paul Lutheran Church in McGregor.

It was a sweet day. Lots of family and friends were able to be there. The congregations packed the churches. The folks extended the warmest of greetings. My little family and I immediately felt that we belonged.

Three years into my pastorate, I received calls to be pastor at other congregations. First, the Lutherans in Readlyn, Iowa, called me. My first wife Kim and I visited. We could easily have fit in there and loved it. Yet, I sensed I was to remain in place.

A few weeks later, the Lutherans in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, called me. We didn’t visit. It didn’t take long to realize that I was to remain in place. The very day I informed my two congregations I had returned that call, I received the third one, this to Hemlock, Michigan.

Because Hemlock is only two hours from my hometown of Montague, the members thought I was a goner. But, nope. After serious consideration, I was certain I was to remain in place.

That was 1999. In 2001, before I even had the call from St. John, Port Hope, Michigan, by the time I hung up the phone with the pastor who phoned to ask if I were available for a call I had the confident sense I would receive the call and take it.

I did and I did.

It’s wasn’t that I was ready to leave McGregor and Guttenberg, or that I was not happy there. It was purely the strong sense that I was to go.

I was pastor at St. John, Port Hope, for thirteen years, until my premature retirement in 2014. Until my health, due to the gender dysphoria that was crushing me, forced me to retire from the work I loved so that I could figure out how to get healthy. The gender dysphoria that forced me to leave the work I didn’t want to leave. And the people I didn’t want to leave. And the village and county I didn’t want to leave. Even the house and yard and garden I didn’t want to leave.

It was a health situation, as with more common things such as cancer and Parkinson’s, that happened to me—that no matter how hard I tried, how deep into talk therapy I plunged myself, and the medical means I used to ease my burden, I couldn’t lessen my pain so as to abide in my condition and remain in Port Hope—that forced the terrible decision upon me: I had to retire.

At the age of fifty-seven. When I was still going strong. When I still possessed the attitude I adopted soon after becoming a pastor at the age of thirty-nine: I wanted to be a full time minister for at least thirty years. And, thankfully, at a time, after thirteen years together, when the good people in Port Hope still wanted me there.

I set a retirement date. When asked if I would push it back two months, I easily agreed. And then I took a month’s sick leave, hoping to regain some sense of health, and upon return announced that I was trying to remain as pastor, to rescind my retirement. Ultimately, I should have known better. A few weeks later, I announced a third retirement date. This one stuck.

Today, June 23, 2021, on the twenty-fifth anniversary of my ordination, I am one week away from the seventh anniversary of my retirement. And it still hurts. At times, the wound is as fresh as it was the first year Julie and I were in Indianapolis. I continue to feel my work was unfairly taken away from me.

That last sentence might sound as if I am bitter about it. Really, I’m not. I’m sad. It hurts. And, yes, I find it unfair. But, hey, loads of things in life are unfair. I’m not unrealistic. I’m human.

Where would I be without the Lord’s and Julie’s love? And my family? And my renewed good health? And the writing, jogging, gardening and yardwork, and cooking, all which provide me with fulfilling work? And the numerous transgender persons I’ve gotten to know, many to whom I’ve been blessed to minister?

During the weeks preceding my retirement, I assured the folks in Port Hope I was not retiring to nothing, that I was confident the Lord had more work for me to do. “I know I will have a third career,” I said, “I just don’t know what it is going to be.” And, a third career I have cobbled together. I am pleased about the ministering I’ve been able to do and thankful to have been, and continue to be a useful person.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

We all have things in life we wish we could have kept from happening. Paths on which we longed to continue to walk. I’m not unique in where I am, wishing I were still a pastor and not being able to be one.

So, no complaining. A heart filled with gratitude. Thankful for the eighteen years I was blessed to be a parish pastor. And, at the same time, sad that it ended so soon.

One of my all-time fave photos: as I depart after having been installed at St. John, Port Hope, my dad and I grab each other’s hand.

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