Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Changing Life (4)

I must try not to be too self-indulgent and post too much about our retirement news (!) but a number of things have already struck in the transition, in particular about my library.

Downsizing is rarely easy but I confess how hard it has been to give away books. I have always loved having books around and for years have enjoyed collecting and reading an ever-growing library. In the past, large rooms for studies and offices have positively encouraged hoarding!  Since coming to seminary I have been treated to a constant stream of publisher's donations,  sometimes for endorsements, which have jostled alongside new books purchased for particular preaching foci.  However, last year I began the painful process of thinning out books and I have since given away over a thousand books.   I will greatly exceed that target by the time I have finished. In fact, my future limited shelving space in Cambridge means that over 90% of my library will go.  Oh, it has been painful saying goodbye to so many volumes which had become friends. 

And saying goodbye sometimes comes with cruel reality checks as I realize I cannot possibly read all that I once hoped to delive into.  For example, I have collected books on particular subjects that I was going to dive into,  that I even imagined that I could write books about, but I now realize time is running out! I remember an athletic deacon in my first church saying that he had suddenly realized that certain things would never happen for him, like playing cricket for England. I remember being amused, but then realizing he was being serious.  (I appreciate US friends would not likely take this seriously anyway!)   Yes, what once seemed limitless pastures are now ring-fenced.  I am grateful that I shall still be able to graze but I can see a fence.

Enough of my ruminations. Thanks for reading - I know many of my peers feel similar downsizing strains, don't you? 

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Changing Life (3)

Last night saw my last teaching class at Northern Seminary. I could hardly believe it1 14 years on - tens of students - and then, bang, finish!  Class began at 7:00 pm with the final two students scheduled to preach in the prayer chapel.  Carol brought some chocolate cake and fruit for a brief send-off after preaching was completed.  Imagine our surprise when at 6:15 pm students began arriving with armfuls of food for a secret meal they had planned.  One, an Indian pastor, prepared a large tray of vivid (and delicious) tandoori chicken.  Others brought in salad, rice, cakes, fruit and sodas.  Before long the table was groaning with goodies.

When the two students finished, (one who was preaching on 1 Cor 11. led us in a communion service),  we all walked down the hall to where the food was prepared and shared a glorious, impromptu, generous, moving time together for nearly an hour.  They had signed a card, and asked us questions, and the crowning moment was when they all gathered around us to pray for our future.  Several students prayed with such engagement and feeling.  Both Carol and I floated home on a tide of love and care.

Over the next weeks there is much grading of papers so I have somewhat come down to earth today with several hours spent at my laptop. But such spontaneous moments of kindness will remain in our thankful memories for a long time.  Thank you, dear students of Course MN383(Fall 2013)!

Friday, November 15, 2013

Changing Life (2)

The first comment made to me at the faculty meeting when I announced my retirement was made by a colleague: 'Congratulations.  It takes real courage to retire.'   Standing alongside him another staff member agreed, 'Yes, it takes courage to go when you do not really have to and when things are still working well.'

I am not sure whether courage is the right word, though I do recognize that when you are doing a job that you really enjoy and you seem to be coping well it does require an effort of will, wrapped up in intentional prayer, to take the step to say: 'Now' and then close the door.  You can imagine how Carol and I have prayed hard and reflected continuously about closing the door.  Frankly, in September 2013 I was pretty sure I would be teaching for at least another year or two.  Actually, I wanted to. Why stop doing something which is so fulfilling?  Retirement advice warns about giving up a job which you really enjoy ( and provides $!) if you have scope to continue.

But, increasingly the need to simplify our complicated lives has demanded action and we both have been given peace believing that closing this door is right.

Many of my friends have gone through this stage already and know the weirdness of moving on past full-time retirement into the unknown.  Now we are beginning to taste this weirdness for ourselves.  And, yes, weirdness is the word!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Changing life (1)

For the last two years I have been teaching preaching to all MDiv students in compressed weeks between September and December.  Compressed is the word as students have given their best on Tuesdays, Fridays and some Saturdays (plus online assignments).  They have stifled grumbles (mostly) and really given their best.  I have been so grateful to the seminary for working out a teaching plan that allowed this intensive teaching so that Carol and I could start to rebuild life in the UK (January to July) each year.

However, some good things  need to come to an end.  Some of those closest to me are not surprised they have! So, I made the announcement to my faculty colleagues this afternoon that I am retiring from my major teaching role at Northern Seminary this year and marking the end formally some time in March 2014. (I will let you know the date!)

Over the last 14 glorious years the Lord has given me yet another career shift in his service.  My 21 years  as Baptist pastor in England provided some of the best experiences imaginable as people came  to faith and were built up into church community.  I shall never forget my times in Blackburn, Lancashire and at St. Andrew's Street Baptist Church, Cambridge.   This was living on the front-line for God.   My 7 years as Principal of Spurgeon's College dramatically shifted gear and threw me into administration and a different kind of leadership (with limited teaching opportunities that nonetheless prepared me for what was going to happen next).

When Carol and I came to Lombard, Illinois in 2000 for me to take up a newly endowed preaching chair I shifted even more dramatically into full time teaching with all the possibilities for reading, writing and influence in the world of homiletics.   It has proved to be the most glorious opportunity which opened up areas that I honestly never imagined possible for me.

I have dubbed this latest news: Retiring from teaching at Northern, but not retiring!  In 2014 the Craddock lectures in April and Baylor lectures in September bring me back to the US.  Several other preaching commitments already lie ahead.  I really want to be useful in the years ahead while being aware of the dangers of going on too long.  I have already begun thanking colleagues for sharing this time with me.  Carol and I know these next few weeks will be bitter/sweet but we have deep peace that we are doing the right thing.   Just to let you know.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Hallelujah! Two years on!

Yesterday I visited my cancer surgeon for my two year appointment.  When he first operated on me he commented that the first two years were especially critical for testing because this is when escaping cancer cells show up.   So, after four six-monthly tests of my PSA at levels which they call 'undetectable' (even though they give numbers) I heard him say that he was as pleased as could be about my progress. 'At this stage the news could not be any better', he said, with a big smile on his face.   He was not the only one smiling and giving thanks for prayers answered.   Of course, regular six-monthly testing continues for the next three years but what a wonderful outcome. 

The nurse who dealt with me initially (weighing, blood pressure, updating details etc) at first seemed rather grim.  I would have much preferred one of the other nurses in the department whom I had met before.  Conversation was monosyllabic until she looked at me and suddenly asked: 'Do you know God?'  When I replied I did, and that I was a pastor who was currently training preachers at a seminary, her face lit up.  'What kind of pastor?' she asked.  "A Baptist' I replied.  Her face now shone radiantly. 'So am I', she said.  She reached across and shook my hand, 'You are my brother', she exclaimed. I hadn't yet spoken to my surgeon but this was a wonderful and surprising beginning to what turned out to be a very positive hospital visit.

So, Hallelujahs all round!  Thank you to our good Lord, and to all the many friends who have prayed and supported me through the ordeal.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

501 posts so far!

Since writing about being in the teaching groove now that term had begun, I have been down deeper than I imagined (sometimes almost submerged) with particularly deep patches as in my three days away at Anderson University (S. Carolina) two weeks ago, giving the Broadus Lectures and connecting with a DMin group.  Thoughout it's been exhilarating as well as demanding, but has left little time for kicking the leaves or writing posts.

Yet, in spite of my recent blogging absence, this post marks number 501 for postings on my blog,  spanning six years. Wow, 500!  I have a couple or so reactions on reaching this milestone:
  • surprise.   I remember the tentative beginning (at the urging of my son Rob) and trying to understand the odd nature of writing publicly without a clear agenda,  wondering if I could avoid ego-trips of personal journaling and if anyone (apart from one or two loyal friends) would ever read it.  Seriously, would it contribute anything and be worth the effort?   The surprise has been the network of readers (admittedly not a very large one) that has followed me through thick-and-thin.  I think the most startling evidence was during my sudden cancer discovery and surgery when so many contacts followed through my progress, courtesy of Carol's hand on my blog.  I would expect such immediacy on Facebook but my little ol' blog provided a wonderful circle of support. 
  • collaboration.  Some of the best moments among the 500 past posts have been occasions of collaboration over preparing sermons (as at Calvary Memorial, Oak Park) or working on different preaching themes, book and journal ideas etc.  I have received some real insights as friends have participated in these ways.  I have always been convinced of the need for participatory leadership and to my joy my little ol' blog has provided a forum. 
  • guilt.  I confess that my posting have been highly erratic.  Some bloggers manage to sustain interesting posts at regular innternals.  Not me!   During collaboration projects it has been easier but too often days have passed while I dithered about whether a post was too 'devotional' or 'personal', or bluntly just downright 'trite' and ended up posting nothing at all!  Thank you for your patience.  
So, for sharing in the blogging adventure so far, thank you.  I have no idea whether the length of time between posts 500 and 501 is a sign of the slowing pace of my future (in)activity but I shall aim to post no. 502 before another month passes!