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The Annual Christmas Letter


Dear family and friends,

Last year – never seen anything like it. Great. Greater than any other year, believe me. That’s what people are saying. My rich friends are calling me, and they’re saying, “Great year, Doug, great year.” And you know, they’re right. Look, I’m very smart. Went to Calvin College, very good school, very smart people there. Have good genes too, really good genes. But last year? Really, really great. You’d never know it, though, from the Fake News media.

And that’s all I have to say about that.

After nearly 40 years of ministry, I am retiring early in the new year.

For most of you this is old news. I keep a blog, so I can’t really dish up many surprises in a Christmas letter. My news is already all over the internet.

I have the usual mixture of feelings about retirement, ranging from gratitude to fear. I am more grateful than I can express for my life as a pastor. And as for the future, I can usually turn fear of the unknown into something like eager anticipation. Thanks to all for letting me know about the “exciting next chapter,” but I’m not there yet.

We have a new house on “the big lake” which has been waiting for us – empty these last three years, except for the summer months – and I look forward to being there year around, taking long walks on the beach, and yelling at the children to ride their bikes in the street not on my front yard. The neighbor who used to do it died not long ago, and someone had to take on the responsibility.

I have many plans in addition to yelling at children – like writing, going back to school, and spending five hours a day at the gym. I thought about learning Spanish too, but decided that learning German has been enough of a lesson in humility. I still want to walk the Camino di Santiago, the 500-mile pilgrimage across northern Spain, but surprisingly enough my travel itch has mostly been scratched. Susan has seen much more of western Europe than I have, but I’ve seen a lot too, even with my work. And it was everything I had hoped it would be. I still can’t believe I’ve been able to live here for the last four years.

Susan has already retired, so she’s way ahead of me in terms of the adjustment thing. Her attention has mostly turned to our new house where finishing work on the lower level has begun – turning the space into a playroom for the grandchildren. She did the framing last summer and used a .22 caliber cement gun to anchor the bottom plate to the floor. I’m glad I wasn’t there to see it. She installed a fireplace too and plans bookshelves and cabinets. Plus, she’s built herself quite an impressive tool bench where all of the saws, drills, sanders, air compressors, and nail guns are kept. I’m allowed to look but not touch. She promises that my book-lined study is next on her list, so obviously the needs of the grandchildren are going to come first in this “exciting next chapter.”

Did I mention grandchildren? There’s Gwendolyn, of course, age 4, who performs for the camera whenever we FaceTime. I can never get enough. She’s the oldest grandchild, and so will have to excel at everything. Poor kid. And then there’s Martin (or Mac), a happy baby who just started walking – like Frankenstein, though I was impressed that he bent down to pick up a Play-Doh container like it was no big deal before continuing his walk. Very impressive. And then, last but not least, there’s little Barack, which is just the code name for our newest grandchild who is due in April. His parents have a dog named “Ruth Bader Ginsbark” (or just Ruthie), they live in Seattle, and they drive a Toyota Prius, so with that political profile we’re not going to be surprised if there really turns out to be a little Barack in the family. Sadly, I was told, Douglas was never in the running.

Older daughter Sarah is a pastor on the staff of an active and progressive Presbyterian Church in Minneapolis, and of course she and I can’t help but talk about church politics for the first couple of days whenever we get together – and then not so much after that, which (everyone agrees) is good. Younger daughter Elizabeth is in the final stages of her Ph.D. at the University of Washington, and her dissertation has something to do with drug pricing, though I don’t understand much more than that. The good news is that she explains health care policy whenever we ask. Our sons in law – Benjamin and Daniel – are fine young men, and we are about as pleased as it’s possible to be to have them in our family. To be honest, family gatherings have improved dramatically since they came along.

I’ve got a lot more, but will try to wind it up. Soon I won’t have a sermon to preach every Sunday, so just imagine how I will go on and on in future Christmas letters. A lot to look forward to for my faithful readers!  Come and see us in Michigan. You’ll find me at the gym and Susan hammering on something. It’ll be the “exciting next chapter” I keep hearing about.

Love to all,

Doug, Susan, and Sammi (our dog who now barks with a very subtle European accent)

(Photos: Arriving at the Meilen Bahnhof above is the S7 which I take to Zurich everyday, except you can see the flashing “Geschlossen” sign as it arrives. I’m not sure what happened, but shockingly the trains were slightly off-schedule today. The photo below is our cottage at the lake, just north of Holland, Michigan.)

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I miss Thanksgiving Day

The country where I live does not celebrate Thanksgiving Day. They say they do, but they don’t.

They call it the Federal Day of Thanksgiving, Repentance and Prayer, which is a mouthful, especially in German, but it’s nothing, really. It falls in the middle of September, and to me it’s just a day like any other.

I miss Thanksgiving Day, the real one, the one I remember from childhood. I woke up a little sad this morning thinking about it. Continue Reading →

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“How’s the farewell tour going?”

Yesterday a church member said to me, “How’s the farewell tour going?”

I suppose this had something to do with my upcoming retirement, and I will assume (because of my natural good-heartedness) that the comment was meant in jest, but it hit the ear wrong. I found myself tearing up unexpectedly.

It’s true that I am in the last months of my ministry here in Switzerland, and I’ve been thinking that there might be some wisdom that I could pass along – or at least note for my own benefit.

I thought about keeping a journal over these last weeks and months, with a view toward writing my next book Continue Reading →

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Getting to a more diverse church

(At the invitation of NEXT Church, a network of Presbyterian leaders in the U.S., I wrote something about becoming a more diverse church, a subject to which I have given considerable thought. You can find the original here at the NEXT Church website.)

I’m no longer sure what got into me, but at the ripe old age of 59, after serving mostly white and mostly suburban congregations over the course of more than 30 years of ministry, I accepted the call to become pastor of the International Protestant Church of Zürich (Switzerland).

On my first Sunday at my new church, I looked out at one of the most racially and ethnically diverse congregations in the world. On any given Sunday, more than two dozen nationalities are present in worship at my church, every skin tone God ever imagined. There are also more language groups than I have dared to count. Continue Reading →

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“Retirement” and this thing called ministry

I’ve been using the word “retirement” for the last few years mainly as a joke, as though it were some distant possibility, certainly not something that I needed to worry about any time soon.

And then, last week, what had seemed so distant and unlikely suddenly became a reality. I am planning to retire early next year, six months from now. Continue Reading →

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Here’s an Oscar-worthy video about my new book

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Bad timing for my new book? I don’t think so

Timing may not be everything in the publishing world – a few other factors are important too – but bad timing is never good for the launch of a new book.

In the forward to my just-published book, How to Become a Multicultural Church, Wesley Granberg-Michaelson points out that most western democracies are having a hard time right about now with multiculturalism, especially with what feels like a rising tide of refugees, immigrants, and others who are, well, different from the rest of us.

In the recent presidential election, Donald Trump successfully tapped into the fears and anxieties that many Continue Reading →

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I was there to hear your borning cry

As I write this, I am getting ready to travel to the U.S. for my mother’s 90th birthday. She is doing well, she lives independently, and (like the Queen of England) she still drives, though not as much as in the past, mainly for her weekly hair appointment. Continue Reading →

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Dachau and my friend John O’Melia

After visiting European cathedrals, castles, gardens, and museums, I finally visited my first concentration camp on a cloudy and cold Friday afternoon in April. Continue Reading →

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“Translation services” on Easter


Image result for how to become a multicultural church

Last night a church member called to ask if we would be offering “translation services” to Arabic or Kurdish speaking people on Easter morning. She is tutoring refugee women in her village, and a half dozen or more are apparently interested in coming to Zürich for worship. Continue Reading →

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