This past Sunday, my husband and girls and I had an unusual opportunity that most pastors in our church body do not get. We had the opportunity to attend the installation service of the pastor who is replacing my husband at his former congregation. Since we live in California, where Lutheran churches are few and far between, and since we only moved two hours away, it was not out of the ordinary for us to attend this installation service. In fact, pastors from churches further away than ours also attended the service, Even with all of that, it still was a bit of an unusual situation.
But, unusual-ness notwithstanding, we went.
One of the other pastors from our current congregation rode along with us. He’d never been to our former church before, so it was all a new experience for him. We had a lovely drive over, and we took the Bay Bridge to get onto the Peninsula, which always makes for a scenic trip. It was enjoyable for us to point out familiar landmarks to him as we got closer and closer.
One thing we did NOT want to do by attending this service was to draw attention away from the new pastor. It’s his church now, and we were only in attendance due to our unusually close proximity (for this area). I think we managed to achieve that. Still it was hard not to get teary eyed when my husband, the former pastor of that church, took his turn at laying his hands on the head of the new pastor of the church in blessing. I wasn’t the only one taking a few (flash-less!) pictures when that moment came, and I don’t think I was the only one who got a bit choked up as I heard my husband’s blessing for the new pastor.
But it was such a treat to see the members of our former congregation again! One of the sopranos in their small church choir was ill, so when I was asked to fill in with the church choir, I happily agreed. (Thankfully, one song was just a hymn melody, and the other song was one I had sung at WELStock last summer.) I’m very noticeably pregnant, so it was fun to have opportunity to share with people that the new baby will be a boy, and it was fun to catch up again. My line for the day was, “What a happy day for this church!” And it truly was a happy day.
I strongly suspect that I will forever have a soft spot in my heart for our former congregation, as will my husband. We loved that church, and we loved the people there. In so many ways, they truly did feel like family to us. I don’t know if our current, much larger congregation will ever feel as much like “home” to us as our former congregation did. I asked one of the other pastors in attendance how long it took his wife for her to feel home when he took a call to his current, much larger congregation. He replied that he didn’t know if it has ever felt like home to her, and I’m pretty sure they’ve been at their congregation at least five years if not more. So, perhaps for me, too, it will never be the same Here as it was There, and I’ll have to be okay with that.
After the service and the dinner, there was a party up at the parsonage, our old house, now the home of the new pastor and his family. It was interesting to see the changes that had been made: the new paint colors, the new kitchen floor (that was LONG overdue!), the familiar and unfamiliar places in the house. It was nice to share with the new pastor’s wife some of the quirks about the house, and how we made the best of those quirks – or even found them useful! All in all, it was a real treat to be back.
Lyd and I left the party for a bit in the evening to head across the street to the home of one of my best friends in the area. It was so wonderful to see her and her family again, and after a lovely but too-short visit, Lyd and I regretfully headed back to walk the dark quiet street we had walked so many, many times before, this time with a bag of baby boy clothes slung over my back. After we got back, I got the girls changed into their pajamas for the two-hour car ride back home, and off we went, back to our new home.
One day last week, as JJ and I contemplated the upcoming emotion of this trip, JJ said to me that he almost didn’t want to go. When I asked why, he replied that it would be the final act of our leaving that church. Now not only are we gone, we are replaced. It’s the last small step in finally severing our ties to that congregation.
But at this installation, I realized that we will never be able to sever fully our ties to our former congregation. I don’t know if any pastor ever can do that with a congregation he serves! As JJ and I have said many times, we grew up there. Those people hold a dear, dear place in our hearts, and I don’t think any other congregation will ever, CAN ever be as dear to us as our first congregation. Add to that the fact that they’re only two hours away and that very likely opportunities for us to see those people WILL come up in the future – and all of it adds up to the fact that we’ll never totally leave.
But, hopefully we have left our former congregation fully enough so that the new pastor and his family are free to make their own memories there, and that the congregation will regard the new pastor as their pastor, rather than continue to view my husband as their pastor. I’m pretty sure that will happen, and I think the transition will go well. We certainly will do all we can to stay out of the new pastor’s way and let him fully take the reins himself.
While we were in town, I stopped at our favorite grocery store to pick up some marinated tri-tip steaks to bring back to our new home with us in a cooler. At the store, I also bought a bottle of wine to give to the new pastor and his family as a housewarming gift. JJ and I presented it to them and told them, “May you be as happy in this house as we were.”
And we meant it.