This past weekend on Vashon, I was very aware of my feelings about ending my contract with these dear people. And as Valentine's Day approaches---and as I preached about love on Sunday morning---what it means to love and to have love in one's life was much on my mind.
I realized recently that, in making the decision to leave Vashon, I've experienced the professional equivalent of that old romantic song, "to say yes to one and leave the other behind; it ain't often easy, it ain't often kind, did you ever have to make up your mind?"
As the years have gone by since I began to serve both these small congregations (since fall 2003), though I have always loved the Vashon congregation and have felt close to individual members and pleased with their successes, I eventually realized that my feelings and actions toward the Whidbey congregation represented a deeper sense of connection.
And then I knew that I needed to make a decision: would I continue to serve both groups, risking serving one better and more passionately than the other, or would I end my relationship with one group so that I could serve the other with greater dedication, risking the lessening of my financial security?
It has felt eerily like dating two lovely men, but seeing the relationship with one as sweet and the relationship with the other as deepening. At some point, it's necessary to decide what one wants out of the relationship---sweetness or deeper intimacy.
And so I have chosen the Whidbey congregation as the group I will spend the next years of my professional (and personal) life with. My decision means I will figure out how to keep body and soul together without the income from a second congregation; it means I will ask the Whidbey folks to change their relationship with me from "consultant" to "settled". And it means I can throw my whole heart and soul into my relationship with them.
Ministry to a congregation is a love commitment requiring one's whole self, being careful to retain one's perspective and to take care of oneself but committing to the spiritual nurture and wellbeing of that beloved community.
There's always risk in an intimate relationship, whether it is a marriage or a friendship or a ministry. Will it last? Will either of us be disappointed? Will we manage our difficulties and continue to grow together? Will our partnership result in beneficial contributions to each other and the larger community? We take on these risks together and covenant to live with them, facing them, dealing with them, overcoming them with trust and with great love. I look forward to it.