Rev. Bruce G. Epperly, PhD
I don’t know about you, but despite the fact that ministry and congregational life are twelve-month enterprises, every September was a new beginning in the church year for me. Old-school congregations proclaimed the first day of the church year “Rally Day.” Others described the Sunday after Labor Day as “A Day of New Beginnings.” This year, the UCC is inviting people to proclaim “Rejoice in our Welcome” on September 10.
While I no longer have the responsibility of welcoming new university students and seminarians each Fall or rallying the church for a new programmatic year, there still is something about September that energizes the spirit with hope and possibility.
In most of our minds, although the solstice is still a few weeks away, we are now moving into Fall, a season of reflection and harvest. If we are retired, we will be receiving invitations to programs from the local senior center, museums, and community service groups. With changing seasons emerge new possibilities for spiritual and personal growth and the opportunity to take new pathways of learning, service, and self-care. As Fall is on the horizon, I remember the words of Lamentations 3:22-23:
The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases,
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
The author of Lamentations holds in contrast time and eternity, changelessness and change, and order and novelty. God’s steadfast love grounds us in the predictable seasons of nature and our own lives. God is faithful in every change. As a hymn based on Lamentations 3:22-23 proclaims:
Summer and winter, and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon and stars in their courses above,
Join with all nature in manifold witness
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.
Yet, the faithful God is also the inspiration to creative transformation. God’s love is dynamic and God invites us to new horizons even in our Medicare years. Again, Thomas Chisholm’s hymn affirms:
Great is Thy faithfulness! Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see.
After a three-month Bridge Ministry for a suburban Washington DC congregation, followed by a month-long holiday on Cape Cod and back home in Potomac, Maryland, I am gently looking forward. “All I have needed, God’s hand has provided,” and that includes a plethora of possibilities. I will continue my ongoing Zoom Bible Study at our church with a new theme, “The Lord’s/Our Savior’s Prayer” in September, not as pastor but as an active volunteer in our congregation. New writing ideas are percolating and the possibility of a limited role at the local seminary, nurturing seminarians’ spirituality and well-being as well as an occasional seminary class, seminar for retired pastors, and invitation to give a talk may be on the horizon. Of course, there are our grandchildren two miles down the road. I don’t want to be tied down, and I realize that most of my activities are chosen, so that I don’t need to stress out about them. Still, while the sun is shining, I want to be active, do projects that matter, and share my wisdom with younger generations.
September is an opportunity to explore possibilities. To build on the gifts of the past and imagine new ways of living them out, or exploring new gifts, put in the background by the demands of ministry. Retirement is a time of adventure and possibility, and finding the right balance between activity, social involvement, and contemplative rest. Perhaps, in a fashion similar to your goal setting in ministry, you might set aside a day for imagination – for wild and crazy thinking, for limitless dreaming – and then join the horizons of adventure with the concreteness of everyday life. Within the limitations are possibilities. Within the everyday responsibilities are invitations to adventure. We have much for which to be thankful and out of our gratitude, let us become agents of our destiny and good companions in our neighborhood, congregation, and community. God is faithful and morning by morning new mercies we see!