As I approach the fifth anniversary of my retirement, I’m becoming more aware of the some of the losses others before me have talked about.
I am more acutely aware that younger people absorbed with important responsibilities for the care and management of their congregations share a community of interests that bind them together. It’s a community of interests I used to take for granted, but am no longer a part of. They are happy to share their gatherings with us retired clergy. After all, many of us are still quite active in ministry, but the stark reality is that as we age we become warmly befriended guests who do not and cannot share in the immediacy of issues confronting them. At some point continued failure to show up at a gathering of active clergy will simply go unnoticed.
In like manner, while I retain a spot on at least one diocesan board, leadership has passed on, as it should, to younger persons whose gifts and energy will benefit the church for years to come. Still, it seems like only moments ago that I was one of the younger leaders, and I find myself a little surprised to discover me as an elder whose “wisdom” is usually welcomed and appreciated, but often unneeded.
I haven’t always been an Episcopal priest; earlier in my career I had been well educated in organization development and the social psychology of the workplace, enough so that I could teach courses and offer consulting services to a wide variety of groups in many parts of the country. It’s dated knowledge now, thirty or forty years old, and dreadfully behind the times. I still think it’s good stuff, but there are new authors, new books, new presentations and a new generation providing congregational development guidance. They do excellent work. No doubt they would be happy to let me help out, but I would have to go through their training and do it according to their way, and I am just enough of a stubborn old curmudgeon to object.
On the other hand, it is also true that retirement offers one more freedom to choose when and to whom one is willing to make commitments. We have chosen to travel as much as we are able to places we have always wanted to see now that we are not bound by obligations to children and work. There is a cost to that. It takes us away from engagement with important local issues, and from gathering times of fellow clergy, diocesan leadership, and community events. While we eagerly go off to explore the world and enjoy our adventures, we also lose touch with the world of work that defined our existence for many years. It’s a sort of ungluing. It’s a question of whether they are leaving me behind or I am leaving them behind. One way or the other, it happens.
Lincoln said at Gettysburg that the world would little note nor long remember what was said there. He was wrong about that, but he was right about a central truth for most of us. We trust that by God’s grace our lives will have made a difference for the better in the lives of others around us and for generations yet to come, but to expect that the world will note or long remember, that is more than we are entitled to.