Dear ones in Christ,
The earliest document preserved in the New Testament is 1 Thessalonians, a letter written by Paul in 51 C.E. to the church at Thessalonika. It is our first impression of what the newly born Christian faith and practice might have been like, decades before the gospels were written. In this letter, Paul writes to a beloved community, saying: How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you? (1 Thessalonians 3:9)
Paul wondered whether he would ever see the people at Thessalonika again, and he cared deeply about their faith. Soon I will be far away, and although I will not see you, this family of faith will always hold a place in my heart. We have shared in both personal trials and celebrations in the past several years. You have shown a deep kindness to me and to my dear ones, the two-legged and the four-legged.
Saying goodbye is never easy. My last service of worship will be at 11 p.m. on Christmas Eve. There we will gather around Christ’s table, as Christians have done since before Paul wrote his letter to the Thessalonians. For almost 2000 years, faithful people have been parting from one another with words of Christ’s peace, and we will do the same. At my last Sunday service, on December 23, we will take the time to say good-byes and to release each other from our covenant in ministry. You will always have a place in my heart, but after I leave here for the last time on December 26, I will not be able to baptize or officiate at funerals or weddings for members of this church; that is the practice in our faith tradition.
We read this passage from Thessalonians in Advent, the beginning of the church year, a time when we anticipate the unpredictable future. Paul writes, And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. (1 Thessalonians 3:12) Like Paul, I wonder how things will develop for the people I can no longer see. I have hopes for your future together. I pray that God will be with you in all that you do and that you will share your abounding love with the hungry and hurting in this community and in the world. I pray that you will be spiritually nourished by your work on Christ’s behalf.
Your next chapter will unfold without me, as mine will without you. Whatever comes next, know that you do not face it alone, for the God who made you and the Christ who redeemed you and the Holy Spirit who comforts you will always be with you. As God has blessed you, may you be a blessing to others.