Ode to a Re(tired) Pastor

Pastor Gary is officially re(tired)! And today is his 65th birthday! I’d be tired, too, if I had his stats. Imagine! It’s been thirty-nine years of (approximately):

  • 1,000 sermons, most preached multiple times on a Sunday
  • 195 weddings (average of 5 per year)
  • 390 baptisms (10 per year)
  • 390 funerals (10 per year)
  • 500 youth confirmed
  • Dozens of Bible studies and other small groups led
  • 10,140 handwritten notes to parishioners (5 per week)
  • 4,056 hospital calls (2 per week)
  • 20,280 meetings (10 meetings per week, a conservative estimate)
  • 468 potlucks (one potluck a month), consuming an average of 1,500 calories each time for a total of 702,000 calories; since 3,500 calories is a pound, this is a net weight gain of 200 pounds at church
  • 202,800 handshakes/hugs (100 per week)
  • 121,680 hours worked (average 70 hours a week)
  • 101,400 pieces of paper handled (50 per week; much more were it not for computers)
  • Occasions when Gary had two weeks off in a row (not nearly enough)
  • Churches Served: First UCC Congregational Church in Milford, Connecticut (3 years); Ogdensburg UMC (6 months) and Central UMC in Traverse City, Michigan (4 years); Centenary UMC in Pentwater (8 years); First UMC in Grand Rapids (20 years); and First UMC in Birmingham (4 years)
  • Numerous conference leadership positions, including chair of the West Michigan Annual Conference Program Committee, chair of the Conference Nominations Committee, Dean of the Michigan Area School for Pastoral Ministry, and member of the Board of Ordained Ministry.

Of course, these stats do not take into account innumerable youth group sleepovers (i.e. sleepless nights) and mission trips, nursing home visits, CROP Walks, graduation parties, and millions of dollars raised from ten building campaigns.

Nor does it count how many times our oldest daughter escaped from the nursery and ran into the sanctuary during worship or how many accidents our three children had on church property or at homes of parishioners: (a broken arm from falling out of tree; a broken wrist from falling off a pony in our backyard; a finger slammed in the front door of the church; a shock from a nail stuck into an electrical socket; lacerations from broken bottles and somersaults off couches, etc., etc.

The word “retire” comes from the 16th century French word retirer, which means “to withdraw” or “to retreat” and was used in reference to armies. It also meant to “withdraw to a place of privacy” or “leave an occupation.” Actually, Gary is withdrawing from Michigan today. A moving truck is arriving to take our remaining belongings to the Des Moines, Iowa area, where he will start a new life as chief cook, bottle washer, chauffeur, golf partner, and comic relief.

Gary was a highly effective pastor for 39 years and will always carry with him the privilege of walking alongside others in the most tender, painful, happy, and profound times of their lives. Shepherding children, youth, and adults from guests to observers, to seekers, to learners, to disciples, to difference makers has been a source of great joy.

He’ll also remember the sixteen years (thirteen in Grand Rapids and three in Birmingham) that we pastored together in the same church. We were the source of endless good-natured ribbing from parishioners because our styles were very different. At the same time, we learned how to play off each other’s strengths, respect our individual uniqueness, and grow our congregations by focusing on the mission, vision, and strategic priorities of the churches we served. The memories are priceless.

  • Serving a church in the middle of cherry orchards
  • Living in a house on a hill overlooking the beauty of Grand Traverse Bay
  • Our tiny 12-month-old old daughter, walking underneath tables in the fellowship hall and getting into the purses of all the women
  • The three kids asking every Sunday when they were little, “Are we going to Mommy’s church or Daddy’s church today?”
  • Walking to the Lake Michigan beach from our parsonage in Pentwater
  • The time Gary had to leave for a week-long Board of Ordained Ministry interview retreat one day after I fractured a wrist. I had to care for three children under the age of six with one arm.
  • The Saturday night after Christmas when both Gary and I came down with the flu at the same time. We not only had to find people to fill the pulpit at a late hour but had to find someone to care for our kids the next day as well.
  • That fateful first Sunday in Grand Rapids, when our elementary school age children were being introduced and Garth marched right up into the chancel, waving like a politician. Later in the service he was making paper airplanes in the front row from church bulletins.

Through it all, Gary served faithfully, joyfully, creatively, and expectantly and was continually learning and growing. Every Sunday he expected God to show up and offered his very best. Gary loved the people in his churches, and they loved him. He offered Christ every Sunday and spread scriptural holiness throughout Michigan.

I am especially grateful that after I was elected to the episcopacy on July 14, 2016, Gary essentially did his job at Birmingham First UMC as well as mine over the past year. He did it willingly and eagerly, even though it meant that we would live in different states for nine months.

Gary’s last sermon series was called “I’m Still Growing!” On April 30, he preached about Jacob wrestling with God in Genesis 32 and concluded the sermon with these words, “May you wrestle until you stand up in the dawn with the assurance in your heart that you’ve seen God face-to-face. And, like Jacob, know not only that your life was spared, but that the eternal God of our mothers and fathers is with you. And that the nature and the name of this God is love. It’s worth wrestling for, my friends. God wrestles with us before we even know God’s name. We wrestle with our sins and doubts until God’s grace transforms us. Then we wrestle for a better life, for ourselves and for all the world. And we do it with a leap and a laugh. Hell, earth and sin are all overcome. We belong to the One whose nature and whose name is love.”

Ministry is a very demanding vocation, and many of us are constantly tired. Gary, like all of the other pastors who are retiring in the next month, especially deserves to be tired, but now he can sleep in as long as he wants, and a whole new life awaits. One thing I do know. When you are a pastor, that’s who you are forever. For it’s not a job, it’s a calling. As a re(tired) pastor, Gary will continue to grow, learn, and serve.

But most important, will you be making me dinner tonight, Gary? I confess I haven’t once turned on the oven yet. It’ll be great to have you in our new home in Iowa. And if you ever get bored, I think I might be able to find you an appointment. No pressure. Just love and gratitude. Well done, good and faithful servant!

41 thoughts on “Ode to a Re(tired) Pastor

  1. What a wonderful and kind message written from a loving spouse to her soulmate.
    What a great tribute and well deserved.

    Welcome to Iowa, Gary and for heavens sake, bake something in the oven! Poor Bishop Laurie needs a good home cooked meal!

  2. Congratulations to Gary on his retirement. Loved your rundown on all the stats on his 39 year career. The blog was written with love and pride woven throughout. A new chapter in your lives begins. Enjoy!!

  3. Oh, Laurie, we will so miss you and Gary. Iwe ard glad we were able to have dinner with him now and then. Our love and good wishes to both of you.

  4. Thank you Laurie, for applying your gift of writing on the occasion of retirement of the man whose grace, integrity and joyful spirit have long been a model for other pastors, including this one. I’m crying happy tears as I read this ode. Blessings!

  5. There is a great disturbance in the force … no wait, that’s Star Wars! But there is a great void, now, In Michigan. And Iowa is the beneficiary. All the best to both of you as you serve (Laurie) and refuel (Gary), and as you learn re-learn to share a home together. Happy Birthday, Gary. May God’s blessings be all around!

  6. Laurie, this would be printed for Bob and he would reply. I still read all of your posts and have printed them so I could read to him. I am so glad you two are able to be together again. If Gary is looking for things to do he won’t look long as he will have much to choose from!. Best wishes to all/each of you. Dorothy Smith

  7. Amen, Laurie, and blessings on you, Gary, as you learn to live together again! It has been an absolute joy to be in ministry with you for so many years.

  8. What a loving and beautifully crafted summary of an amazing career and well lived life. We wish you both all the best in the next chapter of your life in Iowa. Happy birthday and welcome to Medicare Gary!!
    Peace and grace

  9. Dear Bishop Laurie,
    A beautiful tribute to Gary. Thanks so much. Congratulations to Gary on his retirement. My wife, Carolyn and I were so blessed to be part of your Grand Rapids congregation for many years. It was Gary’s unique sermon titles that first captured our attention when we were looking for a new church – “God’s Flavors and Colors” and “Starbucks and Chocolate” are still Carolyn’s favorite sermon titles. We remember well many of your sermons as well- especially the one where you preached the entire sermon bent over as the old woman who encountered Jesus. Both of you had a powerful impact on our lives. You both modeled faith in action. You both ministered to us in times of physical need and you both challenged us to grow in our faith and encouraged us to use our gifts in service to others and for the glory of God. You both will always be an important part of our faith journey. May the God you love and serve continue to give both of you His Grace, Peace, and Joy and may Gary’s retirement and your reunion together be but a foretaste of the rewards awaiting you in Heaven. Yours in the love of Christ, Ed and Carolyn.

  10. What a beautiful tribute to a ministry that has been lived and journeyed out in the most gracious ways possible. Well done faithful servant of God.

  11. Laurie,
    Thank you for the beautiful tribute to Gary. You both have made a big difference in our church. May God continue to be with you.
    Gary, happy birthday and love, joy and many new endeavors in this new chapter of your life. Thank you for all you have done at FUMC (and my Sunday hugs).
    We’ll miss you.
    Love, Toni

  12. What a wonderful tribute to Gary. He deserves a nice long rest. May you have a beautiful life together in Iowa. Miss and love you both.

  13. Congratulations, Gary. I miss you and Laurie more than either of you could possibly know. Very nice tribute, Laurie.
    Your friend, Stephanie Millis.

  14. What an absolutely beautiful tribute …..Yesterday was amazing and the tributes were so well deserved…..Thank you for sharing the stats….amazing….we laymen take it so for granted how much it really takes to guide and serve the flock…thank you for your thoughts, thank you for all you did for us, thank you for the friendship that I shared with you and Gary…..wishing both of you happiness, love and peace.

  15. Beautiful Laurie. And thank you Gary for all you have done…and will do. I suspect it won’t belong before you are itching to be involved somewhere somehow. But I do hope you will take time for yourself and I am beyond happy that you and Laurie are back in the same home once again. Thank you for your dedication.
    Blessings, Wendy

  16. Welcome to Iowa Gary, I am so glad you and Bishop will be together, it is important to be together as clergy couples and as families. Enjoy sleeping in:)! Blessings

  17. What a wonderful tribute to a beloved partner in ministry. Yes, those are awesome statistics – and they represent SO many lives touched and sacrifices made. Welcome to Iowa, Gary!

  18. Happy Birthday Gary and welcome to Iowa! In many Iowa United Methodist congregations, you will still be considered a youngster at 65. Blessings to you and Laurie as you join her in your Iowa home. We all love her already and will love you also. We look forward to meeting you.

  19. A fine tribute to a fine pastor, and well-deserved, while also recognizing that with slight modifications the same tribute can apply to many other pastors, some of whom I have known personally …

  20. Thank you, Laurie, for a wonderful tribute. Congratulations to Gary on a “milestone” birthday and a well-deserved retirement. I wish you both all the best now that you will be together again. As you know, my sister lives in Urbandale & attends/works for West Des Moines UMC. Bill & I come back to Iowa several times a year, so perhaps we will meet again one of these days. Thanks for the good work both of you have done & continue to do.

  21. Thank you Gary for all the hours and love you gave to us in Birmingham. We were so blessed to have you and Laurie serve here. We will surely miss you!
    I hope your retirement years are long and joyful 😊
    Much love,
    Jeanne Fritz

  22. Thank you Gary for all the hours and love you gave to us in Birmingham. We were so blessed to have you and Laurie serve here. We will surely miss you!!
    I pray your retirement years are long and joyful.
    Much love and hugs 😊,
    Jeanne Fritz

  23. Laurie, it made me tired just reading of Gary’s many, many accomplishments. What a husband and a pastor! He is still growing around his middle and Laurie please have him work on that growth!

  24. Congratulations and best wishes, Gary, as you join the 65-and-Over Club. As a 25 year veteran of this body (My 90th birthday is Sunday May 28) I have another definition of “retirement.” it’s RE-TIREMENT, getting a new set of tires for life’s journey.
    With new opportunities to follow your passions and be a partisan for LUX ET VERITAS (I had to get YDS into these comments somehow) you will be blessed and a blessing to many, I’ve just returned from a mission trip to Mujila Falls Agriculture Center in Zambia and a safari in Botswana, and with my 90th birthday coming up in a few days, I’m having a ball! Blessings on both you and Laurie as your journey together takes a new turn. JOY AND PEACE! Ted Halsted, YDS’56

  25. Happy Birthday and Congratulations Gary. Retirement is where you get to pick and choose the fun things you want to do. I remember you and Laurie from when you were at Central UMC in Traverse City. Such a great sense of humor and loved by your congregation. I enjoy your posts every week Laurie. You have always had so much energy and enthusiasm. I say that with envy! May God continue to bless you both as you serve Him together in ministry.

  26. Congratulations on your retirement Gary and Happy Birthday. What a wonderful service yesterday! So glad to be there for your last sermon and graduation recognition. A lot of closure at FUMC for both our families. It was a pleasure knowing and working for you both. Even though we aren’t in Birmingham I think the Hallers and the Simpsons will always feel at home at FUMC. Godspeed.

  27. Our best wishes for a fruitful retirement. We enjoyed reading Laurie’s blog of your achievements through the years. Most deserving of “sleeping in.” It has been a pleasure to call you friends and we wish you the best. Ron and Pat

  28. Laurie – may I post Gary’s quote on my FB page? I think it is just beautiful and truly speaks to my heart. And, even though I don’t know your husband, please give him my best….Happy retirement!

  29. Thank you Laurie,

    It is a great tribute to your husband, a wonderful man, and one of God’s chosen ministers. May the days ahead be filled with continuous joy as you continue life together.

  30. Dear Laurie,
    What a wonderful tribute to Gary! I will never forget the day in 2011 when Nelson was taken by ambulance to Butterworth hospital after being involved in a car accident, and Gary beat me there to visit him. Pastoral care doesn’t get any better than that! Blessings to you both as you begin a new chapter in your life together.

  31. Dear Laurie and (re)tired Gary –
    I was so happy to receive the good news about your coming together in Iowa – you are only one state away, as I am still in St. Louis. I reflect on those days in the GR church, and am just now finding a similar relationship with a church here – although, nothing will replace GR. I am now living on my own, and have moved into the city to be nearer Chris and his wife. Adrienne recently came in from Chicago to help with the move. We loved looking at the recent family photo you included – great memories! Please let me know if you are ever in or near STL – I belong to Manchester UMC, and would love to see you both!
    Joy Poole

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