I started attending Bethel Church in 1998. Since that time, I’ve attended the farewell reception of 9 pastors (1 senior pastor, the rest were associates) and last night made 10. Let me tell you it never gets easier! I’m not a huge change… I’ll just be honest, 99.9% of the time I hate it! But life never stays the same for long. People come into our lives for a season and then exit.
The most challenging part of this most recent change is that Pastor Vicki Judd has lived in Chehalis and attended Bethel Church her entire life. Talk about commitment! I have never known Bethel Church without her. She’s been a core member of the staff and congregation as long as I can remember and then some! It’s hard to imagine what life will be like without her presence.
As a student, I would get upset when a pastor would make that fateful announcement. It meant losing a familiar face and having to meet some new. The older I got, it seemed the more attached I was to the pastor that was leaving even if I didn’t interact within their ministry. I think I could see more clearly the role they had played and I had a greater appreciation for the effort they put forth to make our church body a healthy one. Now as a staff member at Bethel Church, when a pastor steps down, I’m losing a co-worker. I’m losing their voice around the table, their smile each morning, their insight into daily life. It effects my day to day life, not just my Sunday or Wednesday.
I’ve been blessed by the friendships that being on staff at Bethel Church has given me. Each member our team brings something unique to the table. Like iron sharpens iron (Proverbs 27:17), we encourage one another to be the best Christ follower we can be. We’re not just focused on our own ministry, but we really are a team and each ministry affects the other. There are no silos. This means we get very close, very quickly.
Last night at the farewell reception, I got to hear many stories shared about Vicki and the memories she’s made amongst our congregation. I even got to share a few of my own thoughts. Let me tell you, that was hard! First of what to say… when you have an ocean of thoughts, how do you squeeze it down to a rain drop? It was very moving to see the impact that Vicki has had the lives of so many. This might sound weird, but it was neat to have all these things shared in this kind of environment. I feel like most praise is given to a person once their life has passed. Think of the open mic time at a funeral – it’s in those moments people say what they really felt and how they were impacted by a life. In this environment, Vicki and her husband, David, got to see that impact first hand. Saying these words now is so much more meaningful than saying once someone is truly gone.
Good-byes are never fun. They never feel good. I went to Vicki’s office one last time this morning. We exchanged hugs and kind words… I walked away with a couple books (Vicki shares my same passion for reading and learning). While I won’t see her on a daily basis, I know that Vicki’s influence will not leave from my life just because she is no longer on staff. The same is true with a lot of the pastors who have left. Many of them are still my friends. Some have moved far enough way that Facebook friendships are how we stay in touch, but some are still in our AG Network and I bump into them at events. When you do life with someone for that long, you know that you have a friend for life, no matter how near or far.
“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1)
A time for hello and a time for good-bye