CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith & Life for the Years of Winter…
FINAL BENEDICTION [T, 5-1-18]
A friend asked me to walk with him this past week. I like him. He is recovering from surgery. But I told him “no.” That’s so unlike me. But this is a very unlike time in my life. I need to walk alone. I didn’t know it until I got his text.
When we moved “back home,” three years ago, we could still do everything we had always done, only slower. About 15 months ago, that began to change. Now we’re not only slow, we are also absent from a lot of things we used to do.
With me, it’s been about the profession. I was “called” when I was only fourteen.  I started preaching, a regular appointment as a Methodist pastor, when I was only nineteen. I never had an identity apart from ministry. My personal and professional identities were one and the same.
The last 18 or so months, I’ve had to accept that my former identity is over. Completely. I can’t be a part-time clergy, doing occasional sermons and pastoral prayers and such, because that means I’m only a part-time person. I have to get a whole new identity.
The problem is, I’m not sure yet what identity will come.
This closure of my former clergy/person identity has been coming on for a while. I have written formerly here of doing a year-long “professional Christian” fast to try to be a regular Christian. That didn’t work.
Then we went to Solsberry for church on April 22. The Solsberry-Koleen-Mineral charge was my first pastoral appointment. I preached there for three years, while a college student. We had not been back for 58 years.
Even though I had decided/realized earlier that week that my clergy identity was done and over, and said to myself, and to Helen, and to the pastor of our church, that I would do no more clergy stuff of any kind, the pastor at Solsberry asked me to do the benediction at the close of worship. I knew I was breaking my end-of-clergy vow right off the bat, but it felt okay, even necessary, but I did not know why. This week, when I wondered why I had to walk by myself, had to be only with myself, I understood that the benediction at Solsberry was a total closing of my preacher identity—benediction at the place where I started.
Suddenly that life was over, and it was necessary for me to withdraw from others and the world and into myself to see what my new identity will be. That was a spiritual and emotional decision, not a conscious one, but it feels right, and not a little overwhelming. 
I assume I’ll keep writing this column, because writing, more than anything else in my total identity, was as much personal as professional, and you don’t have to be a preacher to reflect on faith and life. But it’s going to be quite interesting, I think, at least to me, to see what identity emerges from these solitary walks in spring time.
1] I talk about this more in my book, THE STRANGE CALLING.
2] Some of my preacher colleagues, when their professional life is over, leave the church. I don’t equate clergy identity with church identity. I still want and need the church. That is my primary community in the world. It is where I learn and hear the language that gives me a way to be in the world.