Rev. Keith's Final Pastoral Letter

    This is my final pastoral email to you. This coming Sunday will be my final service at Wesley as your minister, and then I will move to become the minister of Marshall Memorial United Church in Ancaster. 
    Goodbyes are difficult.  Many of you have been telling me this as we have talked together, and I know it myself. Over these four + years (or almost six years if you were at First United before this), you have got inside me. Your joys have been my joys, and your sorrows my sorrows. I have walked with you through times of celebration, times of questioning, times of grief, and times of confusion. Thank you for the privilege of being your minister through all of these times. I will continue to cherish our time together, even after I am gone, and will continue to hold you in my thoughts and prayers. 
    Watershed moments define our lives. They are locked into our memory and other parts of our lives are all remembered in relationship to them. People sometimes talk about what they were doing when they heard that planes hit the twin towers, or what it was like when the announcement came that WW2 was over, or where they were when they heard the news that Princess Diana had been killed. For me right now, it feels like my ministry at Wesley will always be associated with the global COVID-19 pandemic.  It has so affected my ministry here, that it is hard to remember our church life before that. I have not been able to visit you in your homes or in the hospital as I once did; I have not been able to reach out to touch your hand or embrace you; I have not been able to lead worship with you in front of me (until the last month); I have not been able to lead small groups or meet with you as church committees around a table; I have not been able to gather with you for church luncheons or special celebrations; I have not been able to lead memorial services where we all gather together to grieve and stand in solidarity with those facing loss. But that is not the end of the story.  We needed to learn how to meet online, and reach out through the internet and telephone, and make decisions without being physically together. We needed to learn how to reach out to make sure no one was alone, even though we could not be together physically. We needed to learn how to offer worship virtually, and we needed to learn how to worship together as we sat in our own homes in front of a computer screen.
    I am reminded of the hymn “Spirit of Gentleness” where it says: Spirit of restlessness, stir me from placidness…. At times it may not have felt like a blessing, but in retrospect, this cataclysmic event has forced us to move beyond our usual way of doing things, to rethink we who are, and to explore new directions. We are different than we were before. We are scarred, but somehow more vibrant. We have a different resolve and a different commitment. I wonder if God has been trying to show us something through the pandemic? That is not to say that God caused this to happen, but rather that God often works through life events. We have been stirred from our placidness.  We have moved beyond the same old way of doing things, and have begun to envision things in new ways. 
    For me, after 33 years of ordained ministry, it comes as second nature to carry out the responsibilities and tasks of ministry. Yet, the pandemic turned these things upside down, and I had to learn new ways to be a minister. It was challenging, and yet it also became a blessing for me, for I was able to explore how to reach out to you in new ways, rethinking worship and experimenting with different creative ways to approach worship.This has been life giving for me, and I hope it has been for you as well.
    There is no going back. We have entered into new territory. We have extended our reach through the miracle of the internet, so that far more people worship with us each week.  We have moved beyond the usual and the way things have always been done, to explore new ideas and new possibilities.  And we have been in this long enough that this thinking outside the box has become normalized for us.  We journey into the future not as a museum –  focused on remembering the past and what we once were, but as a church – a vibrant and transforming presence, engaged with changing life around us, seeking to be in dialogue with the current reality, seeking to be Gods hands and feet in this time and this place.
    Change is a constant in our lives. We give thanks for what has been, and we look forward to what will be. The sacred story that comes to mind for me is the story of Moses who led the Israelites through the desert and toward the promised land. But Moses was not the one who would lead them into the promised land. A new leader by the name of Joshua arose among them, who would guide them through the next stage of life. And that doesn’t mean that the road was be easy. Even in the promised land there were many new challenges to face. 
    I have been your spiritual leader through this wilderness time of pandemic. My prayers are with you as future leaders will arise who will journey with you into God’s future. May God bless you and your continued ministry in this place.
    ~Rev. Keith
    In solidarity and toward Shalom/Salem


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