Wednesday, February 25, 2009

A Good Goodbye

(Last week our old church in California said goodbye to Rev. Craig Hall and his wife Ann after three years of service. The letter below was read at Craig’s retirement luncheon.)

Dear Glendale Presbyterian Church,

I want to share a few things as you say goodbye to Craig and Ann Hall. It’s natural to think back through our memories of their time with us, and that’s a great thing—especially since they’ve given us so much to remember.

How many of you were at Craig’s first congregational meeting? He’d been there just a few weeks and he’d put us at ease with his strong sermons and easy laughter. The feel of the church was changing, and it was great. Craig stood up in front of the congregation at that meeting and said this: “I know you all like me. I hear things. I know you all like me right now. In about six months, though, it won’t be like that—some of you will still feel the same way, and others of you will grumble and decide that you don’t care much for me after all. I want to say right now, while you all still like me, that I don’t care. I was called here to do a job, and that’s what I’m going to do.”

It occurred to me then that if you could put the smell of fresh air into words, that’s exactly what it would sound like. It released all of the usual tension around churches that centers on whether or not the minister is happy—or whether enough people are happy with the minister. Craig stepped into that moment and said that it didn’t matter. What mattered was helping us get back on track as a church, and that’s exactly what he did.

Everyone has a story, and mine is just one of them. But as Craig and Ann leave GPC I want to say how grateful I am for their help in mentoring Julie and me as we tried to discern God’s call back into pastoral ministry. Craig didn’t know me very well when I showed up in his office and started asking him questions, but he took the time to encourage and challenge me, and God used him to help prepare me to say ‘yes’ when the London church called us. Ann spent time with Julie to help prepare her for the difficult role she was stepping into. We’ve been here more than two years now, and Julie still quotes Ann every now and again.

I believe it’s a crucial part of a pastor’s role to equip people to do the ministry God called them to do, whatever it is. Craig and Ann didn’t back away from that responsibility with us—from investing time and energy into us—and I want to thank them for that.

I have another treasured memory from Craig’s first few months at GPC. There were about 30 of us crammed into Henry Artime’s basement theater to commemorate D-Day by watching clips from movies and a few episodes of Band of Brothers. In the episode I remember, Easy Company was floundering because it had an inexperienced combat leader. In the middle of a battle that was turning into a disaster, a senior officer sent Lt. Spears to take over and press the attack. He ran right through the fighting—right past some very surprised Germans—and rescued a squad that was trapped in the wrong place. Then he ran back through the battle and took charge of Easy Company, leading them with skill and courage.

What I remember from that night was looking over at Bill Myers, who looked over at Henry, who made eye contact with another guy, and so on. In that moment I knew that just about everyone in that room was thinking the same thing. GPC was going through some challenging times, but in the middle of it all this guy strolled right through the tension and took charge, and in the process helped us find a way out. We trusted Craig, even after such a short period of time, and it was an amazing feeling. On the screen one of the sergeants in Band of Brothers turned to a buddy of his and said: “Looks like Easy Company found itself a new leader.”

We felt exactly the same way.

Craig led GPC over these past 3 years with skill and courage and toughness and good humor. Through it all he never lost sight of the fact that this wasn’t about him—that it was really about GPC remembering how to be a church again, and maybe even that it had been a church all along. What a gift he gave to all of us—what a generous, out-of-the-blue extravagant gift he gave to each person in this community of faith.

Craig and I have talked a lot over the past few years about healthy departures. How someone leaves a community is often more important than how that person arrived. The health of a church can be measured by how it says goodbye to someone it loved, and you’re all experiencing that right now. Even now, that’s something that Craig is giving to this church. Even now, as he leaves, his goodbye to you is a sign that this church is on its way back to health and strength and service.

To Craig and Ann I want to say thank you for your faithful service, for your mentoring and for your friendship. We’re just one family from GPC, but God changed our lives through your ministry here.

To my friends and family at Glendale Presbyterian Church, I want to say just one last thing: You have been well led and well loved by Craig and Ann Hall. Never, ever, settle for anything less.

With Blessings,

John D’Elia

1 comment:

  1. Loved hearing your voice that day, John. Thanks for writing.


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