I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.Philippians 1:3-8
Today’s post is about the most significant decision Rebekah and I have made in forty years of ministry. We – like most of the members of Wake Forest Presbyterian Church – are both sad and excited as we try to imagine what new things God is going to be up to as we look into the future.
Every career has significant markers. Beginnings, promotions, growth, stellar achievements, moves, national recognitions… retirements. Some (like me) completely change halfway through; others (like Rebekah) stay in the same profession for 40 years.
From the moment she felt called to ministry, Rebekah was a courageous, cutting edge pioneer who consistently pushed the envelope. In 1978, women pastors were extremely rare, but she did more than hold her own at Columbia Seminary, she soared. When she answered God’s call to serve as associate pastor at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Pensacola, Rebekah did so with such confidence and belief she shattered stereotypes and broke new ground every step of the way.
For four decades, she has not let up, consistently responding to God’s invitation to serve with boundless creativity, imagination, energy, enthusiasm, love, and belief. But why, we have both often wondered, would anyone ever give God anything less than everything?
Fresh breeze of belief:
Rebekah’s gift has always been to bring a fresh breeze of authenticity, belief, and possibility into any room she enters, and her leadership style both invites others into a new level of faithfulness and equips them to succeed.
One day, after she spoke with deep passion and optimism at Presbytery, another minister took her aside. “You’re just naive,” he said condescendingly; “but you’ll get beyond that one day.” “It’s not naiveté at all,” she responded; “after four decades of ministry I think the word you are looking for is ‘belief’.”
- This is why all three student ministry experiences (Gastonia, Jackson, Daytona Beach) were so overwhelmingly positive.
- This is why our 14 joyful years in Pensacola saw unparalleled growth, a huge ministry to young families, and three new church starts.
- This is why our time at First Presbyterian Church in Brandon evolved into a 17-year love-fest of transformational growth that blew our minds in terms of what can be possible.
- This is why saying goodbye to Florida and moving to Wake Forest Presbyterian Church for 8 years of re-imagination, restoration, and grace was exactly the right move, when many pastors would have thought, “I’m 57, let’s just relax right here and coast to retirement.”
So now 65 is on the (near) horizon, and it is time for one more bold decision in ministry. This time, “Listening to The Spirit” means it is time to retire, and to allow this amazing community of faith to move into a dynamic future from a position of love, and vitality, and strength, and faithful witness.
This decision is something we have been talking and praying about for many months. I will write much more between now and Sunday August 1st, her official last day in the pulpit. But for now I want to share these few thoughts from the day Rebekah’s official letter hit members’ mailboxes.
In love, and because of love – DEREK