Next Sunday morning, I’ll board a plane and fly into my future in Portland, Oregon. I’m tremendously excited for that future, for all it entails and who I’ll be spending it with. I’m leaving good for better. Even so, I wanted to take this final week to reflect on all that I’m leaving behind and try to capture all that I’m feeling at this particular junction in life.
I’m not sure that this series could start with anything but AUC. In the 34 years I’ve been on this planet, only family has been a more constant part of my life than this church. With that said, I’m not sure where or how to begin saying goodbye to this place. I started following Jesus because I had Sunday School teachers at AUC who cared enough to show up week after week and explain the Gospel in a way I could understand as a small child. I spent 4th through 6th grades reading my bible every night because Shirley Cook cared enough to start a bible reading program in the Junior department. I spent middle school figuring out that faith was a participatory activity and that maybe someday I could be a youth leader, mostly because Ken Burton told me I would be. I spent 4 years in high school being mentored and learning what servant leadership looked like first hand and deciding that maybe I could be a youth pastor, mostly because Rich told me I should be. From the time I was a small child through my high school graduation I had countless people invest in my life and pray for me.
For me and countless other kids who grew up at AUC it will always be home. We will always remember just how refreshing a pretzel rod and water could be during VBS. Or how much fun we could have eating fried foods and playing capture the flag at RIOT. We’ll remember conversations in the cabins at Pinebrook, pudding wrestling in Wildwood and traveling all over the country (and world!) for retreats, Creation and missions trips. But maybe more than that we’ll remember adults who looked at us and said “Sure, you guys can absolutely lead worship!” and let us start SWAP. I know I’ll always remember the room full of people who took me seriously when I suggested spending a ton of money on a one day event so that kids might come and hear the gospel. I still can’t believe they thought my idea was good enough to get behind and I REALLY can’t believe they took me seriously and named it after me. (That one may have been a mistake…) I’ll remember leaders who wrote checks and made donations from their own pockets so that we could buy the gear we needed. I’ll remember leaders who gave up sleep for all nighters and retreats and lock-ins. I’ll remember SO MUCH pizza from Cocco’s. More than that, I’ll always remember that this was where my life changed forever when I got serious about following Jesus.
I don’t know that Easter will ever feel right without belting out Because He Lives with all of you. Christmas will be different without the joyous reunions that happen Christmas Eve in the candlelit sanctuary. I’ll never again smile with delight as I hear Dr. Jerry kick in the antiphonal speakers when he really gets into a song. I have one last Sunday to groan at Pastor Paul’s puns. So many of the things that have been a part of my life for so many years are gone or going away.
My life is about to radically change.
Church, so is yours.
I speak to you now as the outsider. One of the many who has left or is leaving. This is a season of change for AUC unlike any it has experienced before. It would be easy to think that it’s a season of change that might do you in, that this could be the beginning of the end for AUC. My challenge to you is to be like Peter walking on the waves- keep your eyes fixed on Jesus and don’t worry about the waves. Don’t worry about where the next pastor will come from or what color his skin is, make sure he looks like Jesus. AUC is changing. Delaware County is changing. Jesus is not. Fix your eyes on him and allow him to be the author and perfecter of the faith story of AUC.
I’ve butted heads with many of you over the years over methodology and the way in which we live out our mission as the church in the world. My heart has always been beating for Christ’s bride, especially as manifest here in Aldan. My heart and my prayers will still be here with each of you who work tirelessly to love God and love others in this community. My prayer is that God’s leading would be abundantly evident through this season of change and that hearts would be open and receptive to that change, whatever it may end up looking like.
AUC, I have been your child, your youth leader, your worship leader, your brainstormer and your critic. I’ve spent countless hours in your halls, I have signed my name in your steeple and rattled your windows on more than one occasion. You’ve helped me grow as a believer, as a leader and as a thinker. Out of necessity I’ve refined and rethought my beliefs because of you. I’ve been your rebellious son and your biggest cheerleader. Through it all, you’ve been home to me and more importantly have pointed me towards Jesus every step of the way. I owe much of who I am today to you and the love shown by your people. Because of you I’ll always clap at baptisms and not know what to do with my hands when I’m not playing guitar during worship.
For now I say goodbye and cheer you on from afar. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.