Stepping into the waters of retirement

Sunday, April 15, 2012

W.T. Handy was a strong leader -- a man who knew Robert's Rules of Order so well that you'd think he had written them. When he presided over the yearly meeting of United Methodists -- called an "annual conference" -- there was little doubt about who was in charge. I was in awe of Bishop Handy and, to be candid, a little afraid of him.

When he ordained me, he pressed his hands down on the top of my head so hard that I struggled against his force. Handy was known to do this to make an impression on ordinands; he didn't want them to forget the day they came under the yoke of episcopal obedience. I didn't.

When Handy retired in 1992, a gift was made to him of a rocking chair. He actually sat down in that beautiful wood and started to rock. A big smile was planted on his face.

A rocking chair has long been a symbol of what it means to be retired. Lots of time on your hands. Long, leisurely mornings sipping coffee and reading the newspaper. Maybe a nap at midday. Aimless strolls through the mall. You get the picture.

That stereotype of retirement, if my parishioners are any barometer, is entirely wrong. Some folks actually get busier in retirement. Well, I am about to find out firsthand.

I've decided to retire from the United Methodist ministry effective June 30. I have 20 years of service and my denomination allows early retirement when a clergyperson has accumulated that amount of time in the itinerant system. I'm too young, though, to stop working. And I don't want to stop.

I've been writing for this newspaper for a while now -- six years. I'd like to continue if they'll still have me. I've started to teach at Southeast Missouri State University. I love teaching and hope to continue on the adjunct faculty of the university. I also need to find a main job -- and in that regard, I am hopeful.

Mainly, my wife and I desire to stay in Cape Girardeau. We love it here. We've lived lots of places in our 30 years of marriage, and Cape Girardeau stands heads and shoulders above all of them.

The church that I will soon leave after seven years, Centenary United Methodist, adopted a vision statement not long ago. In it, the hyphenated word "risk-taking" appears. Churches are generally risk-averse. So are individuals. Retiring when you have steady employment ahead of you, in this economy, is a risk. But we feel called to step into uncharted waters.

Risk and safety are constantly at war. In what I'm sure is already a failed attempt at avoiding melodrama, my wife and I choose risk. We have a sense, through a lot of thought and prayer, that God is beckoning us into this water. We pray it will be warm.

The Rev. Dr. Jeff Long is senior pastor of Centenary United Methodist Church in Cape Girardeau.

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