What follows is the text of a letter I read to the congregation of the First Baptist Church of Asheville at this morning’s worship service. Please pray both for me and for that wonderful faith-community as we enter this season of transition.
Across this year, you have lovingly walked with me through my diagnosis with multiple myeloma, early rounds of chemotherapy, and the challenging experience of a stem-cell transplant. The very good news, as most of you know, is that the cancer is in remission. To lengthen that remission and keep the cancer in check, I have begun additional chemotherapy treatments. I am deeply thankful.
As I have dealt with this difficult diagnosis and with the effects of treatment, I have experienced, viscerally and powerfully, the truth of the promise that “nothing can separate us from the love of God” made known and real to us in Jesus. I have been to the edge and to the bottom, and God’s tender and tenacious love has met me in those hard places.
For some time now—for longer than I have known that I have cancer—I have been pondering prayerfully Mary Oliver’s question, “Tell me what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Cancer has brought that question into even bolder relief.
In the thirteen years I have served as your pastor, we have been and done church together in ways that were possible because of your commitment and openness. We have renovated and expanded our landmark building and opened both it and our hearts to welcome our community; started new ministries in our city and region, especially to the “least of these”; shifted our membership policies to include among us everyone God has included in the church universal; put in place a collaborative model of ministry; and, in many other ways, made progress toward our being, at the intersection of our culture and the Kingdom of God, a community of faith, centered on Jesus and committed to his purposes in the world.
You have been amazingly supportive, encouraging, and affirming. You have been the church I needed during this season of my life. You have helped me to grow as a person and as a minister. When I have made mistakes, you have worked with me to correct them. When I have been in the wrong, you have challenged me to reconsider what I said or did. When I have needed grace and mercy, you have given them generously. I love you and believe in you.
It is time, though, for my response to God’s call to me as a human being, as a follower of Jesus, and as a minister of the gospel to shift in significant ways. There are dimensions of that call which I need to explore more directly than I can while also serving as your pastor. After much reflection and prayer, I submitted my resignation to our Deacons this past Thursday night (October 16, 2014). My last Sunday will be January 11, 2015.
I believe that I have given you the best gifts I have had to give, and I also believe that the next season of the church’s life, a season which is very bright with possibility, invites the talents and vision of a new pastor. That new pastor will step into a healthy, creative, and vibrant community of faith. Our gifted and resourceful ministerial staff and a team of wise and committed lay-leaders will continue to guide and care for the church.
I do not know what I am going to do. For the first time in my life, I am resigning from a job without already having one lined-up. Even though I am uncertain about what my next work will be, I am certain that my time as your pastor is ending. So, like Abraham and Sarah, I am setting out in response to what I believe to be God’s call without knowing where I am going. I trust, as I have said to you across these years, that God will give me everything I need to live the life God is calling me to live.
Grace and peace,
On Wednesday night, October 22, at 6:00 PM, in the Chapel, we’ll have an opportunity for further conversation about my decision. I hope you will make plans to join me.