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!