An hour before the worship service, I find the pastor’s wife weeping in the church nursery. She’s huddled in the corner chair beside the playpen, pressed deep into it, like a wild thing cornered.
Over the last dozen years, she has sequestered herself here often during worship services, while one of her six children sleeps or plays. The room holds no children today. Only this amazing small woman. My daughter. This broken piece of my heart.
Amanda rarely cries. Today her tears flow unchecked down her face; crumpled, red. Her shoulders heave, her body trembles. She’s too far back in the chair to embrace, so I pull up a rocker and sit across from her. She tries to talk, but tears obstruct.
I listen, then, finding no response adequate, fold her small cold hands in mine. Do the only thing I know to do. Pray.
“Someone’s cryin’, Lord… Kumbuyah.” Come by here, Jesus. Come by here.
Later, days later, voice steady, face peaceful, she would tell me that she now understood the depths beneath her tidal wave of tears. Depths that hid a growing certainty she hadn’t wanted to admit – until acute sorrow forced her to confront it.
Emotions are funny things. Sometimes they march out ahead, loudly exposing what the rest of our psyche, like a petulant child, has been previously unwilling to admit.
“Mom,” she said, “I know now that happened that day. I was mourning.” Considering events that preceded and followed that Sunday tsunami in the nursery, I understood. She grieved a decision she knew she and our son-in-law must make. She grieved what that choice would mean: the closing of an era, one that God had graciously allowed. One that through a series of clear indicators, he had now made abundantly clear must end.
About a month later, on a cool Sunday morning, Kendall preached a powerful sermon. Before leaving the pulpit, however, he took out a letter and without preamble, began reading:
“I’ve served this congregation for twelve years. In that time church attendance has doubled in size. I’ve walked with you through good times and hard. I love you. However, effective today, I am resigning as pastor. My final Sunday will be October 21st.”
Over three decades, the Preacher and I pastored churches in three provinces. Memories of the difficult, sometimes messy emotions surrounding each transition remain with me, particularly the genuine sorrow of parting with precious congregants. But every ending meant a new beginning, and fresh awareness of God’s absolute faithfulness.
Few people understand the demands ministry places on clergy. Twelve years in one pulpit is a feat by almost any standard. But discovering new paths and forging new relationships will also challenge this young pastor’s family and the church left behind.
Nevertheless, God leads to and God leads from. He is both loving and trustworthy. He can bind up broken hearts and broken congregations. And when we obey, we find in time that in spite of our tears, his ways are always perfect.