This is certainly a season of both sadness and joy here at FCUCC. There is the joy of Rally Sunday, the start of our new Interim Senior Pastor, the rush of children and youth, the beautiful sounds of the choir, the return of fellowshipping with people in the Narthex. But this is also a season of sadness and loss, particularly of the loss of beloved pastoral leadership here at our church. It is the sadness of these losses which I want to write about today.

Less than two years ago we lost Pastor Kathryn Kuhn to cancer. Kathryn was a deep blessing in our lives in so many ways. Her compassion, strong organizational skills, and genuine love for the church benefited us immensely. Personally, Kathryn was like the older sister I never got to have. We shared many laughs together and she taught me a lot about ministry with her lengthy experience. Her passing is still fresh on my heart for grief does not obey the measurements of time we humans rely upon. Having her ask me to give a portion of her eulogy, and doing so at her memorial service, was deeply humbling and awesome.
Our summer started with the planned retirement celebration of Pastor Steve. Steve was a leader and mentor to many of us, myself included. His expertise in sharing God’s word through his sermons and worship leadership was an incredible blessing. He tried to be all things to all people and had such a wide array of gifts that he met all of our expectations. I have acutely felt his loss in my life because Steve was my longest running colleague. We saw each other through thick and thin and our relationship was one of the most formative of my professional life. We knew Steve needed to leave to take care of his heart condition, but I think many of us wished his ministry could have lasted even longer. His departure came with many tears and much reluctance.
In these past few weeks, we saw the departure of Pastor Laurie. Laurie came to us first as an interim pastor and then made the transition to permanent and installed pastor last October. She started her ministry during an incredibly challenging time with Covid and endured as both Steve and I had multiple medical challenges. Laurie taught all of us about radical love and justice. She had an incredible gift of speaking and pushed us to envision a different way of being a faithful people. I feel the loss of her leadership not only in my workload but also in the absence of her prophetic voice. Her departure also came very quickly. Because the timeframe was so short not all of us were able to come to her celebration or express our gratitude or ask all our questions.
As your Pastor, I see that each of these pastoral losses contain unfinished business. Kathryn’s unfinished business is the grief of the loss of someone so bright and beautiful to cancer. Steve’s unfinished business is the loss of a charismatic presence that was larger than life. Laurie’s unfinished business is the feeling we were just getting started and then we could not take our time to fully share our gratitude and say goodbye. Each person offered a different set of gifts loaned to us for a time by the grace of God. Each were temporary and each caused us to be changed. We are right to have sadness around so much loss in such a short time. And perhaps the words of the Psalmist may be even more poignant to us, when they say:
The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their cry. When the righteous cry for help, the LORD hears, and rescues them from all their troubles. The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD rescues them from them all. – Psalm 34

Each of our pastoral transitions causes a different set of questions and concerns to rise to the surface. Each person left for different reasons and under different circumstances. Each loss brings a different kind of grief and a different set of feelings. It’s a lot. I want you to know that Pastor Susan and I see this. We know it’s a lot, we know it’s too much loss in too short a period of time. We grieve with you. We hold concern for the church with you. I pray for you and your household and your families. I pray that together we can endure these losses and hold out hope for bright and wonderful things that are yet unseen. I pray we trust that the Lord hears us. So, I want to acknowledge that many of us are just as brokenhearted. I am too. I have lots of mixed emotions! It’s going to take a while to process all of this and adjust and rebuild a sense of trust in all the relationships and ministries that continue to bind us together.

I was standing in the back of our sanctuary on Rally Sunday. I looked out at the hundreds of people, young and old, filling our pews. I remarked to the AV volunteer, “I never would have guessed that I would be standing here on a Rally Sunday without any of the clergy I have come to know, respect, and work with.” And it’s true; this is a moment in our communal life I never would have guessed would have happened. And even in the middle of my realization, our fantastic choir sang. Our children had their backpacks blessed and there was barely room in the theater to hold them. Two children were baptized, and I got to hold a beautiful little girl named Talia! Another robust confirmation class came forward. Our new Interim Senior Pastor, Susan, brought us a steady and faithful message. I leaned over to Susan and said, “Even after all that happened here, the pastoral losses and Covid and everything, I see a church full of life and hope. Look at them, aren’t they amazing?” And she responded “More than amazing, it’s a miracle. This church is a miracle.”

It is a miracle. It is a miracle because the Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in Spirit. May the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ uphold your Spirit this week.

– Rev. Nick Hatch

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