‘Tis the season of transition, as many pastors bid farewell to churches they have led, and prepare to move on to new appointments. For some “parting is such sweet sorrow” (as Romeo lamented to fair Juliet), and some faces and familiarities will be missed. But many pastors and churches look forward to new challenges and new opportunities to evolve and stretch their ministry muscles in new directions.
While the pastor’s farewell sermon is significant, a farewell letter to the congregation, often contained in the church newsletter, can have a wider and more lasting impact, especially if the writer, like the Apostle Paul, “speaks the truth in love.” The Rev. Thomas Brooks did just that in his recent farewell letter to the congregation of Frankford Memorial UMC in Philadelphia.
In his pastor’s newsletter column, he seems to sing all the right notes with: affectionate reminiscences; scriptural and historical references; reflections on the sacramental life of the church; reminders that while he goes, Jesus Christ will remain a constant presence; and finally a parting blessing and encouragement that the members will welcome and work well with their new pastor.
Here is Pastor Tom’s parting epistle to his beloved flock, offered here with his permission. Enjoy.
From Pastor Thomas Brooks:
My last pastoral letter to the good people of Frankford Memorial UMC.
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 fondly on our time together; I trust the same will be true for you.
A few weeks ago we had the pleasure of celebrating our 144th Anniversary. In our bulletins was a list of the pastors who have served you since 1871. Of your thirty-three pastors only three stayed longer than I. I wonder about the experience of those Frankford pastors of who preceded me. I wonder about the people they served? What did their passion for Jesus Christ look like?
In ten years I’ve watched children grow up. I’ve baptized, performed marriages, performed too many funerals. I’ve visited hospitals and shut-ins. Together, we realized a few dreams, lived through a few trials, and persevered.
While I am leaving you, there is one who remains constant: Jesus Christ. Jesus has been here from the beginning, and will be with you for the rest of time. If through the power of the Holy Spirit you allow Jesus to guide (you) our Frankford Congregation will always have a mission. It may not look like the church we have today. There may be difficult decisions which need to be made. But a passion for our Lord and Savior will see you through all your future trials. This passion guided the earlier congregations of Frankford, a passion which allowed them to navigate their own trials. They managed and flourished; so can we.
The biblical record is full of stories about people who faced harder trials than we. A few times the people of Israel were exiled from their land; every time they returned. When Elijah was on the run from King Ahab and Queen Jezebel he prayed, “I’ve been very passionate for the LORD God of heavenly forces because the Israelites have abandoned your covenant. They have torn down your altars, and they have murdered your prophets with the sword. I’m the only one left, and now they want to take my life too.”
The LORD heard Elijah’s prayer and encouraged him with these words: “I have preserved those who remain in Israel, totaling seven thousand–all those whose knees haven’t bowed down to Baal and whose mouths haven’t kissed him.” When Elijah had done the math it looked to him like it was all over. God’s math was different from Elijah’s. God made a way where there was no way, and God will do it again for people who have faith.
I hope you have a wonderful future. I hope that under new pastoral leadership you find a way to connect with the neighborhood and invite more people to join you Sunday morning. Finally, I share with you the Mizpah blessing, the words with which we close every Administrative Council Meeting: “The Lord watch between me and thee while we are absent one from the other.” Go out smiling!