17 July 2011

Last Ride

I left my empty office at St. Andrew's for the last time on Thursday, 30 June at 4:30pm. All I had with me was my briefcase containing my laptop and the materials with which I normally travel on a daily basis. All my office belongings had been boxed and taken to our home in Lee's Summit the day before by Two Men and a Truck. They were fast and efficient.

Retirement days are bittersweet (I learned). There is a strong feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction of stepping away after 33 years of parish work. There is a certain pleasure in knowing that certain parts of that work can now be left behind for others.

The other part is a feeling of sadness and disconnection. For a parish priest, the days, weeks and years have been defined by a routine of prayer, worship, pastoral care, teaching, preaching and program that becomes ingrained -- no matter what parish one is part of. It is a continuum that has consistent rhythm and cycles. I knew, as a walked from the church building to my car, that I would deeply miss this part of my life. I was ordained at age 27 and went immediately into parish work. At age 60, at one day longer than the day I was ordained in 1978 (29 June), I was stepping out of that rhythm and cycle.

When we came to St. Andrew's on 1 January 2004, we had purchased a home in nearby Lee's Summit -- in the southeast section of the greater metro of Kansas City. There were two primary reasons for the choice. First, we had a daughter still in high school. We were advised to live in one of the surrounding communities to get the best school experience for her. Then, there was the matter of housing. Close-in area costs for homes were inflated and beyond our comfort level of both what we could afford and what we needed. After an intense search in October 2003, we found what met an agreed, three-point criteria: a) Our daughter would like the school; b) all three of us would like the community; c) all three of us would like the house (style, size and cost). After making a "horseshoe" search that began in Olathe, KS and moved around the north of Kansas City, we found all three criteria met in the home we now own in Lee's Summit. Our elder daughter was in her first year of college and was not part of this journey.

There were folks who were concerned about the distance from the church. Truth is, the drive averaged 25 minutes from my driveway to the parking lot of St. Andrew's. If I timed my drives well, I was not part of the rush hour traffic. But, still, the occasional raised eyebrow, when I mentioned the commute, let me know that folks generally thought that was something of a long ride.

Two things happened on those drives. One was just the time to "gear up" or "unwind" -- depending on the direction. By the time I arrived at the office, the structured part of my day was already set and active in my mind. By the time I arrived home, I would have made internal closure, set some notes (I use a memory stick recorder or, now, my smartphone) and be ready to spend quality time with my wife.

The other thing that happened was prayer...informed prayer. I would habitually listen to either "Morning Edition" or "All Things Considered" on NPR. I would take in the news on the hour/half-hour, turn off the radio and spend time in reflective prayer...for the concerns of the world and those of my parish. This quickly became a much loved and anticipated routine. Over the 7.5 years as Rector I made this trip on the average of six days each week (excluding vacations or times away on business).

On this warm Thursday afternoon, on the last day of June, I began the last ride. I spent it giving thanks for parishioners, opportunities, experiences and all that had shaped the years here. I did not turn on the radio but made the trip in silence (which I had done many times) -- allowing my mind and heart to absorb the experience completely. This was a transition ride. It marked a distinct and dramatic shift in both my life and the life of the parish. I was moving into uncharted territory. The parish would make a transition to new leadership. This last ride was both a making and a breaking. Both are essential for spiritual growth. Change is good, and this change had been so carefully planned and competently executed that the ride seemed natural -- unfettered by doubt or negativity.

I write this from a perspective of having now been retired 17 days. Folks in the parish who have chatted with me have asked if I am enjoying sleeping late and relaxing. In general, my patterns have not changed. I have always risen early. I am a morning person. Not being a night person, I have enjoyed the absence of evening meetings and the ability to ease into a reasonable hour of going to bed. The days have been filled with many projects. I have a "Benedictine" personality. Building a daily routine that has prayer, study, work, exercise and quality family time has always been a goal. But, more on that another time.

Suffice it to say, life continues to be full. I still miss the commute/prayer time. I miss the liturgical and parish daily work cycle. Nope, sorry, I don't miss meetings -- especially the ones in the evening. It is time for a new balance and a new mantra, which I have adopted as part of my email signature line. I close with it.

In Christ's Love,

Fr Fred
Retired - At Large and Running Amok
Lee's Summit, MO

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