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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, but my editor told me – in the nicest possible way – that I’d have to think of a much more clever angle than that. Books about retirement, she said, are not big sellers.

The coordinator of the men’s breakfast asked if I would speak at the November gathering and “kind of sum up my career,” as he put it, as though that could be done in 20 minutes, including time for Q&A.

So, here are some preliminary thoughts, a kind of rough draft for my presentation to the men:

  • Not long ago I considered myself to be at the top of my game. There wasn’t a situation or crisis that I hadn’t seen before – or couldn’t think my way through. At about the same time, though, I realized that what I knew about ministry was slowly becoming obsolete. My training wasn’t bad; it was just dated. Funny how the “top of my game” feeling should happen so close to the “my approach to this work is dated” realization.
  • I’m not as patient as I used to be. I used to listen to people quite patiently years ago, people who weren’t inclined to accept my advice or who didn’t care much about what I had to say. I listened anyway, thinking that was what I was supposed to do. And now, I find myself drawn to Jesus’ words when he cut off a complainer by saying, “Do you want to be healed?”
  • There’s a proverb – I’m pretty sure it’s in the Book of Proverbs – that blessing should always precede wisdom. I’ve always taken that to mean that what other people want from me, first of all, is blessing. And then, possibly, though not always, they will ask for my wisdom. Either way, I should always begin with blessing, as in “you’re really good at that” or “I think you have a gift.” These words might one day lead to someone saying, “What do you think about…?” or “what would you do in this situation?” At this point in my life, I am concentrating on giving blessings, not knowing if anyone will ask for wisdom, of which I have quite a lot, in my humble opinion.
  • Not long ago David Letterman was quoted as saying, “Anyone who retires to spend more time with family should first ask for the family’s opinion.” It’s a good line, one I should probably pay attention to. Among other things, as I have written here, I hope to spend more time with my family in retirement. What I haven’t heard yet is that anyone wants to spend more time with me. If that turns out to be true, look for me greeting shoppers at Walmart.

That’s all I have for now. If I think of anything else, I’ll post it here. In the meantime, you all are really good at what you do. I mean it.

(Photo: Back in Holland – Michigan, that is – my shoes are waiting!)

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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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Pierre Spoerri, 1926 – 2017

Pierre Spoerri was born in 1926. He died in late February after climbing into the backseat of a taxi in front of the Convita Bethanien, where he lived with his wife Fulvia. His memorial service was held at the French Reformed Church in Zürich on March 9, 2017. Continue Reading →

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My most embarrassing moment

When I was 10 years old, I won second prize in my school’s annual “prose and poetry” competition and got to read my entry in front of an all-school assembly.

I nearly always use those words in my biography to get a laugh, but the truth is, the prize was for me a life-altering event. Continue Reading →

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