This is my last pastoral letter to the good people of Irving Park United Methodist Church
Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
I want to thank all of you for the many ways you allowed me to be your pastor. As the years go by I will look back with profound thankfulness on our adventure together in ministry and service; I trust the same will be true for you.
These five years with you have been unique in my experience in ministry. We have traveled a road that few congregations are able to successfully navigate. We began a journey that seemed full of pitfalls and difficulties. Through working together, we have been able to develop a plan with hope for the future.
In five years we have shared a lot of history. Some of you have come to this faith community since I have been here -- actually about a third of our regularly worshiping congregation. Each of you have brought your gifts and support to this congregation, making us stronger by your presence. I've had the privilege of performing weddings and baptizing children. I’ve watched children grow up. One of the precious moments this past Sunday was Azalea offering to share her water bottle with me -- Azalea whom I baptized and with whom I played while visiting her parents, whose wedding I also performed. I’ve visited hospitals and shut-ins, most recently meeting Audrey, the beloved daughter of Claire and Ryan Conaghan, who were the first couple I married at Irving Park UMC. I've confirmed our young people, and accompanied them on an unforgettable mission trip to the Heifer Ranch in Arkansas, watching them discover joy in faith and service. One of my greatest joys as your pastor has been to watch the development of the strongest Core Leadership Team that I have yet seen in any church. They are a diverse and talented group who have learned to rely on each other and seek the best way to serve God together, even if it isn't the easiest way. Together, we have wept and dreamed, prayed and persevered.
While I am leaving you as your pastor, you are not abandoned. God continues on the journey ahead just as surely as God traveled with Israel through the desert, was present in the uncertainty on the ark, and with Nehemiah and company rebuilding Jersusalem. And the leadership appointed to you for the next phase of the journey are two of the most talented, committed and energetic pastors in our conference. Bishop Dyck and Dr. Zaki are entrusting you with the very best our conference has to offer. Pray for them, support them, offer them help as you are able, and work with them. I think that some of the words of instruction in the Baptismal Covenant are very appropriate for me to leave for you regarding them: Do all in your power to increase their faith, confirm their hope, and perfect them in love. The road will not always be easy -- but it hasn't been thus far, so we really ought not to expect that! If the redevelopment plan moves forward, you will be out of your historic home for at least a year. But I have confidence in your pastors and your church leadership to hold you together through your wandering phase. Remembering that you do not journey alone will help you to stay together. The Caring Partners program will help you deepen your relationships. Your mission work together will draw you closer to God AND closer to each other. Your outreach to the community will help strengthen community relationships and draw your neighbors to you. With God, and working together, many dreams are possible!
I will continue to hold you in my prayers. I pray for you to have a future like that spoken of in Jeremiah 29: 11. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. I hope you have a wonderful future in ministry. I hope that under Pastors Hope and Lindsey you find new ways to connect with the neighborhood and invite more people to worship with you Sunday morning. I hope that you deepen in your relationships with God so that you find that it is God who is the source of all strength and hope for you. I hope that you extend your reach in service so that more people will know God's love through you. I hope that you will share the wide-open welcome that is part of the DNA of this congregation so that people who have been unloved or abused in the name of religion might experience God's love through you. I hope that you will BE who you ARE -- the beloved and loving people of God -- all of your days.
I will close with the phrase that I said to our children when I dropped them off at school, hoping that they would remember who they were and their purpose in life through the day. "Remember who you are. Be a witness!"
Love and prayers always,