Today, Wesley Chapel and Christ United Methodist Churches lost their pastors. They didn’t die, or quit the religion, no. They were called to other churches. In the United Methodist tradition, pastors are seen as invited members of the church, and they sometimes get transferred. This is by a process known as the Methodist Trail of Tears. The congregation and the pastor stand at the altar, and, when they are ready, they release the floodgates in their eyes and the resulting tsunami launches said pastor to his next congregation. The congregations need only about a year to build up enough tears, but Christ UMC’s pastor had three. Rest assured Reverend Keith Lawder had no shortage of gifts to float on when the dams broke.
Reverend Bocian, as of sixty-five minutes ago ex-pastor of WCUMC, chose to go out happily, though I wasn’t there for his last service; I was too busy wearing an apron at my own church. I feel awful for saying so little, but I only went to WC’s services for about two months, and I hadn’t built an attachment.
Keith Lawder, though, impressed me every service with the depth and humor of his sermons. He has a story for every day of the year, and more besides, and he used them masterfully to paint wonderful examples of the written word in our minds. I could spend many feverish letter-types to talk about all he’s done, but I would rather not, and leave the mind to conjure an image of the man. Just a hint: he can play the William Tell Overture with his teeth.
At the end of the service today, we did the customary tradition of preparing the charges to blow the dam. We all got around Rev. Lawder, and, after the pleasantries, the unpleasantries, and the send-offs, the dams started breaking. I myself was mentally scrolling through my playlist of memories, and two or three would repeat, so I focused on those.
Reverend Keith in the confirmation class, talking about how he loved teaching this. I could tell he wanted to be asleep, though he would tell you he wouldn’t.
Reverend Keith stating how we would always be in his heart. He told us this the month before he told us that he was told he was to be reassigned to another church a month ago, but couldn’t tell anyone. At the time, I wryly thought, “yeah, but how many churches have you told that to, and forgot?”
Reverend Keith, falling in the frigid dunk tank at our fall festival. He wore his wetsuit inside out.
As the film of this last memory tapered off, and the credits began to roll, the skies clearly let loose on the congregation. Then I detonated the charges, and buried my face in the man’s chest. After clearing drenching his nice coat in my tears, I stumbled out of the church, into my car, and kept weeping. Though my mouth would not contort into a smile, I was weeping for him.
The great thing about being a Methodist is, after a while, if you live in the same area, you can come to a different church and inevitably meet friends who had followed one pastor to his new church, then decided to stay there. Furthermore, pastors have the most friends out of anybody I know. The weeping for the loss of a pastor is never seen as weakness, or looked down upon. In fact, if your levees don’t break in the hurricane, I personally feel you haven’t paid enough attention. Because, if you weep uncontrollably, you recognize the great man of God you have just lost, the priceless wisdom suddenly gone. Back when Reverend Chuck Savage (who in my eyes will never be equaled by another man) left our church, Reverend Keith knew that the congregation knew that nobody would ever be as great as he.
Honestly, even through these three years, I think Rev. Keith could’ve caught fire in mid-service, and yelled his message through the flames, and he still would not have equaled the passion exuded by Rev. Savage. Rev. Savage, though, could’ve caught fire in mid-service, and yelled his message through the flames, and he would not have equaled the passion exuded by Rev. Keith. Furthermore, if one were to compare pastors, one would miss the point of the Methodist reassignment. The point is that the congregation listens to the message, not the pastor. When congregations listen to the pastor, there is the legitimate and proven fear that said pastor may influence said congregation’s beliefs. I doubt though, that such events are the case for the majority of pastors.
Though I think too much on a heartfelt topic. May the road rise to meet you, and may the wind be at your back, Reverends.