We were informed the door would be unlocked from 6:30-10:30 (we couldn't use our church key because the locks had already been changed). We borrowed Drew Carrie's Trail Blazer and arrived at the church building a little after 7 pm. It was kind of surreal as we drove up to the place we used to call home for 14 years. We lived in the parsonage next door for 12 or so years. So I spent almost all my time there - either at home or in my office in the church building. I loved looking out my office window over toward our home - which we converted into a Mission House when we bought our own house and moved out. In some ways it was like we had never been gone, in some it was like we had never even been there.
We had several boxes for the 3 large bookshelves of books (plus a few others stacked here and there). We didn't have near enough. Jane started boxing up books while I went through files for those of a personal nature. I also had a ton of pieces of paper taped or thumb-tacked to the walls and bulletin boards; and music CD's; and drawers full of mostly just junk (nail clippers, business cards, hair brush, floss, etc., etc.). We also had some music up in the sanctuary, as well as a bench that Jane's brother had made from their barn wood, and some pictures scattered around my office and various other places. It ended up taking way longer than I had imagined, and we weren't sure if we could get it all in one load. We had the Trail Blazer crammed full (with the back seats down) from side to side and floor to ceiling. A lot of books were wedged in whatever nook and cranny we could find. It took us almost 3 hours. I had hoped to throw away some of the junk and clean, but we were tired and sweaty and decided someone else could do it.
When we were done loading up the SUV we took one last walk-through of the first church we ever pastored. It was weird to think what it looked like when we came there. Especially the basement, which is now carpeted, and which we almost single-handedly painted ourselves a couple years ago. We walked through the classrooms - where Jane used to love teaching; and the nursery - where our grandkids grew up and learned to interact with other kids. Finally we made our way to the sanctuary. Hmm... That's when it kind of started to hit me: We will never be here again; all the baptisms and dedications and tears and laughter and... everything. Jane wanted to play the keyboard one last time, but just couldn't bring herself to do it. I stood up front for awhile, and remembered where people used to sit. Then I walked through the pews like I used to do every Sunday morning and touched the back of the seat as I remembered the people who would sit there. Eventually we both ended up in the front pew, where Jane would sit, and we just cried. It makes me cry now just thinking about it. A lot of good things happened in that little church over the last 14 years. And now it's over (not that good things can't continue, but they won't for my family; not there).
We finally turned off the lights and headed next door to the mission house to see if we had anything there. I still had the garage door opener and I needed to return that. We opened the garage door, but the entry doors were locked. So I guess if we had anything in there it's going to stay there. Then we walked around outside for awhile. Our kids grew up in that house. I used to play football with Isaac in the side yard. The trees and shrubs we planted were grown. We'd added the playground, pavilion, and two sheds since we arrived in the summer of 1999. The kids both had their high school graduation parties there... I could go on. It was a gut-wrenching night. So many memories... and we were told to leave them all behind. No good-byes, no 'thank-you'... nothing. Just sign this piece of paper and leave us alone. I guess that's how it goes.
Anyway, we arrived back at our house around 10 pm and then had the task of unloading 14 years worth of ministry. It took a lot less time to unload it than it did to pack it up. We carried everything to the L-shaped room in the basement. It took about 20 minutes, and now we have boxes upon boxes stacked all over down there. I need to build or buy 4 or 5 bookcases now. Then we both wrote Facebook posts. Jane wrote:
Strange night tonight. Dan Horwedel and I packed up 14 years of ministry and hauled it away. So many good memories, so much time and effort which we trust was led by God with what seemed like positive results along the way. Tough way to say goodbye but I guess it was the way it had to be. Just the two of us alone in the quiet of the sanctuary.
I shared what she wrote and added:
The wife said it best below (above). We went to my former office tonight for the first time since early May. It took nearly 3 hours to pack up all my books and files and bits of paper taped to the wall and sort through all our stuff. Then we just sat in the front pew and cried. Jane couldn't bring herself to play the piano one last time. I pictured where everyone used to sit and touched the back or your pew and tried to block everything else out. I think the hardest part was maybe saying goodbye to the nursery where my grandchildren will no longer get to laugh and play their friends. But life goes on. Right? Sad night.
I am still receiving comments and 'likes.' I felt bad about what I wrote - thought it was a bit too sappy - so I wrote an apology the next day. But that's how I felt, and I actually think it helped us find some closure - at least as much as we'll be able to have.
And that's that, I guess. I have most of my stuff (my 3-ring council binder for 2013 was gone), and I've returned everything I had that belonged to the church. Now we try to move on. I feel bad for the several people who made me promise that I would return from the sabbatical. I really did intend to; it wasn't my choice. But I'm sure life will go on. I am just the latest of 4 pastors at that church to leave the ministry when I left the church. A trend I had hoped we were going to change when I took the sabbatical. But I guess not. And I guess it's not my problem anymore. It's also not my privilege to minister with those people anymore either. I have certainly been humbled by this - probably more than at any other time in my life. I have also learned a lot (am learning a lot). And here we are. I think that's about all I've got to say right now.
Peace out, my friends; and in.