At our Vestry Retreat our Senior Warden, Jimmy McLemore, used an image to describe our current transitional phase at St. John’s as we prepare for the calling of our next rector. While Jimmy is a lawyer, he comes from a long line of farmers. “The way I figure it,” he said, “is that 25 years ago we called Robert to be the rector. We planted a new crop. The crop grew. We harvested it. Now it’s time to plant a new crop. And I’m excited about that.” Over the years, I’ve told you that there is something very important about me serving as the 15th rector of St. John’s: I’m the one between 14 and 16. Jimmy’s image reflects the same kind of thinking.
One advantage of our interim arrangement which allows me to remain as rector while the search process is on-going is that we get to pay attention to transition issues as the work of the calling process makes steady progress. We get to tend to saying goodbye, prepare to say hello, and are forced to do so while we are still together. So far I like the way all that is going.
When I first announced my upcoming retirement, there was a little thud in the atmosphere. We all knew it was coming eventually but boom there it was for us to deal with. Then, as that event seemed sort of out in the future, the parish got to work. Committees were appointed. The survey was conducted. The parish profile was published. The wheels got to rolling. And the system relaxed around that dynamic.
Now, as the new year has turned over and a new vestry has been elected, the system takes another shift. What seemed like an event out in the future is closing in. By September 1, probably a little sooner, I will be gone. You will be welcoming a new rector and the new crop will begin to be planted.
As that date more quickly approaches, my excitement is growing. We all know that me stepping away from St. John’s isn’t going to be very easy for me. I love this place. And I love being in charge. I’m preparing for a huge adjustment. I don’t know exactly what that will look like but I have a huge support network, including a therapist and a spiritual director, who are helping me prepare. Mary Ward and I are working together very well. We’ll figure out this retirement thing. People do it all the time.
The plan we have put in place included an immediate adjustment in our relationship when I made the announcement. It also called for another adjustment six months before my actual departure. We’re at that six-month mark now and we purposefully move into a little different phase where I will make some changes.
You’ll still hear from me regularly as your priest and rector. I’ll continue to write a weekly reflection for you to read. We might mix in some reflections from Jamie and Deonna but this will continue to be my primary contact with the parish at large until I do retire. I’ll still take my turn in the pulpit on Sundays and preside at weekday Eucharists in the regular rotation. But you’re going to watch me change a few things. I’ll focus on leading the system but some of the more personal things will be dialed back. You won’t see me at social gatherings quite as often. I won’t go to every parish covered dish supper. There will be a few Sundays here and there where I will intentionally be absent as I was this past Sunday. I’ll soon wrap up my spiritual direction relationships. I probably will be a little less playful in my interactions. You’ll still see me in the role of rector but you probably will notice a little less of my personality.
One way of looking at this next step in our transition is that we now do some intentional weaning, me from you and you from me. That’s important and appropriate. If you see me and I’m not quite as outgoing and jovial as you are accustomed to, just remember that I’m trying to sort out this next move and I’m trying to allow you to do the same. If I seem pensive or subdued, it’s not personal. My job now is to become a little less the center of attention. That will be good for all of us. It will help me make my own personal adjustment when I leave here for good. And it will help you prepare to welcome your next rector.
God is preparing you and me for the next crop in our lives. Embrace that opportunity. There will be much work to do in the planting and tending of that crop. There will be tremendous new growth. It’s an exciting time in the life of St. John’s. Always, as Christian people of faith, the best is yet to come. Let go and live in that faith.
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.