Over the past month or so as I have been preparing to step down as your senior minister, the reality that I am leaving has really begun to sink in. Removing books from the shelves in my office, going through old files, rediscovering cards of appreciation that I have accumulated over the 16 years of my ministry with you have led me to a mixture of feelings—mostly gratitude, but, if I’m honest with myself, a bit of wistfulness, too. How could I not feel some tugging at my heart after all we have shared, knowing that I will soon no longer have the privilege and responsibility of ministering to you?
I think of all who have allowed me into their lives, who have blessed me with their stories, their sorrows, and their joys. I see in my mind’s eye the faces of those whose families trusted me to create celebrations of life honoring their loved ones, and I remember all that I have gained from these sacred opportunities to learn yet again that this life is not ours to keep, that the time for compassion is always now, and that the love we share with others remains even after we are gone. And I remember the times I have spoken in public on behalf of our UU values and contributed to our shared quest for justice. It’s been such an honor to speak on your behalf!
As I walk through the church and as I look out from the pulpit on Sunday mornings, I am proud of what we have created over our years together. And I know I will miss being a part of what you create next.
But I also know that you will be in good hands and that you will continue to thrive. With our talented staff and dedicated lay leaders and future-focused congregation, how could any other result be possible?
I had an “exit interview” with a regional staff person a few weeks ago. While reviewing the transcript for accuracy so that it could eventually be shared with the board and the interim minister who will begin with you at the end of the summer, I was struck by how our story of shared ministry truly is a happy one, filled with exponentially more successes than challenges. We’ve had a great ride, haven’t we? Here’s the part that got me the most though. I was asked, “How did the congregation support the growth of the minister in the development of their gifts?” I responded, “In every way possible, pretty much; they believed in me, they empowered me, they gave me responsibility…they gave me tools, and trusted that I could succeed, and encouraged me. When I made mistakes, they didn’t hold it against me.”
Every. Word. Is. True. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
Soon I will no longer be your minister. But the joys, sorrows, and love that we have shared will remain in my heart. Forever.
All the best to you First Unitarian Church of Des Moines.
It’s been a blessing to serve you.
See you at the June 11 celebration of our shared ministry!
Rev. Mark Stringer