Non-Retirement Retirement with a Part-Time Appointment

April 1st, 2017

“Well,” said the district superintendent, leaning back in his chair and steepling his fingers in that thoughtful DS way, “considering your background and experience, we can call this a genuine cross-cultural appointment.”

And then he gave a little chuckle, signaling his awareness of the irony of that last statement.

But really, what else would you call it when you appoint a certified city boy, who has never baited a fishing hook or watched live pig wrestling, to be the pastor of two small, rural Kansas churches?

It all started when my spouse decided to take early retirement from her high-paying corporate job in the city. Her move caused me to radically rethink my own retirement timeline. At a young and still energy-filled sixty-four years of age, I wasn’t quite ready to hang up my robe and play golf and do crosswords all day. Yet every morning as I headed out the door for another day of Adventures in Ministry, it was hard not to notice how serene (and unashamedly giddy) Joan looked, sitting there with her coffee and newspaper, waving goodbye to me.

And so I did it. After much prayer, soul-searching, and spousal discussion, I filled out the necessary paperwork and announced my decision to retire from full-time United Methodist ministry.

Much to my surprise, however, I wasn’t ready to quit cold turkey. I discovered that the work of ministry still had a strong hold on me. It seemed to have woven itself pretty tightly into my DNA, becoming much more of a “who I am” than a “what I do” kind of thing.

And so I asked my district superintendent if he knew of a half-time appointment nearby I might be suited for — all of which led me into the warm embrace of the Mound City and Blue Mound, Kansas, United Methodist churches.

And so, if “cross-cultural” is not quite the right name for this appointment, what would you call it?

One thing I chose to call it is opportunity; opportunity for a direct, first-hand experience of what ministry looks like for the vast majority of United Methodist pastors today. In my short career in ministry, I have served as an associate pastor in a white suburban church of about three hundred members, as one of an army of associate pastors at the largest church in our denomination, and as the lead pastor at a suburban church of about six hundred members. NEVER had I attended, let alone led, a church with an average worship attendance of fifty or fewer.

It has been an opportunity for my wife and me to forge a deep connection with people who live in daily communion with the pulse of the land and the bonds of community and family. This appointment has helped me see that rural America, despite its recent struggles, possesses a vitality and vibrancy. There is pride in the slower pace and simpler patterns maintained here, a recognition of the virtue of a non-anxious approach to living. No one seems to mind that the grocery store closes at 7:00 on Saturday night.

You might also call it something of a relief; a relief from the often soul-crushing load of administration that can eat up the time and energy of pastors of larger congregations in our connection, a relief from the demands of overseeing staff and budgets and programs and facilities. For me this appointment has offered the chance to focus most of my time and energy on the parts of ministry that drew me to it in the first place: preaching and pastoral care.

You can call it a challenge. The communities I serve, not unlike most rural communities, are held together by an intricate web of relationships, memories, loyalties, and grudges. It’s a challenge to figure out where all the lines of connection are drawn and then to navigate them successfully. Toes occasionally get stepped on, but you will also usually find an ample supply of grace extended due to your status as “the new kid in town.”

I also find myself challenged to calmly accept the fact that most of the town’s population of 865 people has a detailed knowledge of my daily comings and goings and activities. For that reason, it is a good idea for the pastor’s beer to be purchased two towns over. But then that same network gets activated with positive buzz when the pastor’s oil gets changed at the local garage.

Even though I am less than a year into it, I am experiencing part-time appointment in retirement to be a wonderful way to step back from, but not out of, the world of pastoral ministry.

Of course you will not be fortunate to serve with the incredible cadre of hard-working, community service-minded lay leaders that exist in each of these two churches, but I would still strongly urge you to include this as one of the retirement options you explore when the time comes.

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