readingA few weeks ago I got to spend a long weekend with my grandson Richie and his parents. Richie is still of an age where he thinks having Grandpa read his bedtime story is a treat and I am, of course, delighted to comply. Maybe I was a bit too euphoric, or maybe it wasn’t a good idea to be padding around in my stocking feet, or maybe the treads on the carpeted stairs in their new-to-them (but not new) house are just a tiny bit too narrow – but whatever the reason, as I came down the stairs from upstairs I fell – and hard. I was carrying a Kindle in my right hand and though it all happened too fast for me to have any precise clarity about exactly what happened, I obviously jammed that Kindle into my thumb in such a way as to do damage. It’s not broken-bone damage – my physician assured me of that – but even a month later it still hurts. But finally I’m beginning to regain function. And what’s the sine qua non of thumb function? Why, grasping of course! It’s the source of ubiquitous joking in our house – at the expense of Quincy the dog: “Oh…of course you can’t get your own Dentastix; you don’t have an opposable thumb!” (nor very many teeth either….but that’s a story for a different day!).
Grasping. It’s an essential part of facile manipulation of the physical world. But it’s also a metaphor for what humans are altogether too good at – holding too tightly to that which can’t be held forever or shouldn’t be held at all.
Some months ago one of our bright young pastors suggested I read a novel by the South African writer J.M. Coetzee. The book has a jarring, one-word title: “Disgrace.” And assuredly there is disgrace in the life of the main character.
But there’s something else that struck me powerfully – maybe because of the point in life to which I’ve come. This story isn’t just about disgrace….it’s also about relinquishment. About letting go. About not grasping that which can’t be kept regardless of the efficacy of one’s thumb function.
By now you know how much I love the biblical story and its fascinating – at times perplexing and even oxymoronic themes. I love the way heroes and villains are all over the place and how often the heroes and the villains are exactly the same person! I love the stories that are grace-filled and tender and I love the stories that are crude and unworthy of God…but there they are!!
And as I get older, I am drawn to biblical implications of relinquishment. It’s rarely a main theme, but it’s frequently lurking around the edges. The suggestion that losing is finding and that saving one’s life is the surest way to lose it.
We are all of us today one day closer to death than we were yesterday. Some find that observation morbid, but I find it merely honest and even a motivation to make just as much of today as I possibly can. In these recent weeks, I’m been thinking of another relinquishment – soon I will be losing all of you.
Part of the deal when a pastor accepts a call is that the relationships formed in the work have an “end by” date attached to them. It’s part of the reality of healthy boundaries. It’s part of having clarity that churches (or conferences) don’t exist for pastors – it’s the other way around. Clergy exist (as clergy) only for the service they are gifted to render. Yes, of course clergy have needs – but most of those needs are to be met elsewhere – not in the context of their work.
But there is a down-to-earth reality that seemingly contradicts what I’m saying here – that being the reality that ministry done well is very rewarding. It isn’t always easy, or fun, or immediately satisfying – but in the long run it is profoundly rewarding.
And the fact is, I’ve been profoundly rewarded to be your conference minister for 12 years. But now it’s time for me to give it up – to relinquish it. And I will. But even though we won’t work together any more, I will still carry you in my heart. I will pray for you. I will read the conference newsletter and your Facebook posts. I won’t comment on them if they have to do with the conference – but I will gobble them up – because even though I relinquish my work with you, my love for you cannot be so simply extinguished.
At the planning retreat of the Conference Board of Directors late in October it was made official that I will stop being Iowa Conference Minister on December 31. But for practical purposes, I’ll be done December 22. By the end of that Friday I’ll have my stuff out of the (my?) office and will have driven with Ruby to this house in Blue Mounds, Wisconsin, that we built in anticipation of this day. We both knew this day would come and we looked forward to it…but until recently it still seemed very far off. But now it’s nearly here.
This isn’t my last communication with you – that will come at Christmas-time, but it’s important to leave with clarity and resolve – and I intend to do exactly that. It’s important so that you can move on – with each other and with your new Conference Minister.
Relinquishment. I relinquish you to Brigit….but I will not let you out of my heart. Blessings!
Rich Pleva
Conference Minister
The UCC in Iowa

One Response to Relinquish

  1. Nancy Jensen says:

    Thanks for the beautiful insights as always, Rich! Blessings for this new phase of your journey!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *