Farewell from Pastor Joanne
Photo by Markus Spiske on unsplash.com
"If you open your heart to the hungry,
and provide abundantly for those who are afflicted, your light will shine in the darkness, and your gloom will be like the noon. The Lord will guide you continually and provide for you, even in parched places. He will rescue your bones. You will be like a watered garden, like a spring of water that won’t run dry."
– Isaiah 58:10-12
We’ve had an abnormally dry spring and early summer this year leaving the area short of the average rainfall level by several inches. The recent rainstorms have indeed been a welcome relief for our parched gardens and yards alike, but we’ll need lots more to make up the difference.
One day recently when the clouds rolled in and the skies began to drench the ground, I was reminded of what it’s like to take that first drink of cool water after spending time in the hot sun. When we’re dehydrated our bodies and minds don’t function well. We can feel confused, sluggish and tired. Our muscles and joints don’t work at their peak. But the smallest amounts of water can begin to reverse that deficit.
When we’re parched physically, we turn to water to rehydrate, but what if we are parched spiritually, in a dry spell in our faith journey? Those times happen, too. When we find ourselves in the desert, in the wilderness, and God seems so far off.
The remedy is similar to taking that first gulp of cool water. Begin to take in the word of God – one scripture at a time, one prayer at a time, one meditation at a time. As you begin to hear and study the word and be in conversation with God and your Christian siblings, your faith will begin to be renewed and replenished. We discover that time spent with God and in the word refreshes our souls and feeds our deep dryness with gulps of Living Water. Lingering in the presence of Christ and allowing his words of love and compassion to sink deep into our hearts will quench our thirsts.
The dictionary definition of “parched” is extremely thirsty. But as the safety protocols for Covid-19 continue, we may also be suffering from other thirsts; we are extremely thirsty to be able to go wherever we please unencumbered by masks and social distancing.
We are extremely thirsty for a sense of safety and wellbeing.
We are extremely thirsty to be able to gather physically with family and friends, to visit parents and grandparents in nursing homes and assisted living.
We are extremely thirsty to be able to shake hands, offer a hug and a kiss.
But as the psalmist writes, we can depend on God in these most difficult of times. God will provide for us, even in parched places. It’s in those places that I believe God is calling us to see others who may be feeling parched, too. These months of shutdown during the pandemic have certainly highlighted just how interdependent we are. We need to continue to make the sacrifices – wearing masks and social distancing – necessary for the greater good.
Think also about who’s missing on the Zoom screen on Sunday mornings? Who may have felt isolated before this social distancing began and now feels totally alone? Who needs to feel a greater sense of belonging, appreciation and usefulness in this community? Who’s spiritual gifts need to be celebrated and employed?
God is putting before you the opportunity to find new ways to be in community, new ways to continue to connect to the members of the congregation and to your neighbors. In what new ways might you lift one another up or carry one another’s burden? It is not an easy task, and it’s going to challenge how you have always done church. Successful ministry post-Covid-19 will look very different than what you have known. May your hearts and minds be open to those changes knowing that God is there to lead and guide you into the new thing that God is doing.
In just a few days, I will be departing as your pastor to lead the Hamptons UMC in Southampton, N.Y., on Long Island. Pastoral transitions can be bittersweet times for both the congregation and the clergyperson as we say goodbye to those we have come to know and love. And there remain the parts of God’s ministry and mission that we had hoped to achieve in our time together. For instance, we have just barely begun to scratch the surface of our work to dismantle racism and white privilege in our lives and community.
My move has been precipitated by the New York Conference’s decision to end my ½ work as communications coordinator. So in order to have a fulltime appointment, I must leave Mount Kisco.
But this appointment will be a bit of a homecoming for me. I was serving in my first appointment at the Bridgehampton UMC when it merged with the Southampton church in 2013 to create the Hamptons UMC. And this will also mean a return to Bella’s “hometown.” The proximity to the beach and ocean will be a balm for both of us.
As I go, I will be observing some new boundaries. As is United Methodist protocol, I will be breaking off contact with the congregation for a year, which will allow Pastor Elaine Pope-Joffrion to settle in and begin to create relationships with you. I will only return to worship or social events at the church on her invitation. I am confident that you will grow and be nourished to do the Lord’s work with humility and intentionality under Pastor Pope’s leadership. I hope that you will continue to pray for both pastors during this time of transition, as you know I will continue to keep you in prayer for the rest of my days.
I want to especially thank Paul Martinez for his collaboration and intuitive nature, Marianne Baldwin for her willingness to take on new challenges, and Art Covey for his dedication and on-point church signs.
I will always carry with me the many special moments in serving as your pastor. A few are forever embedded as snapshots in my mind:
The glee of the Sunday School kids running up the center aisle because they are so excited to be in church.
Families searching for the perfect pumpkins amidst all shapes, sizes and colors on the lawn.
Little Elisa adding her voice to the hymns.
The tears of a longtime member of the congregation after being asked for the very first time to serve communion.
The inclusion of the pastor, band and children of Iglesia Cristiana Fe y Esperanza in the Living Nativity.
Three life-size plastic Wise Men on the altar for Epiphany Sunday.
The food pantry serving hundreds of families in drive-thru lines and then walk-up windows during the Covid-19 shutdown.
Joining other Mount Kisco clergy in standing against systemic racism at the “Peace with Justice Prayer Vigil.”
My friends, may your days of feeling parched be few and far between. May your lights continue to shine in the darkness and may you be awash in the Living Water that only Christ can provide. I pray that you will be safe and well as you continue serving God from the corner of Smith and Main. God bless you all.
As always, in God’s care and service,