It is a tradition that our Minister writes a letter every month which is printed in our magazine, "The Messenger". In the combined July and August edition John and Liz have written their final letter before John's retirement takes them to pastures new.
I've never found times of departure easy.
As the eldest of my parents' ten children, I still remember well those painful childhood experiences when my mum would 'disappear' into hospital for a time only to return with a brand new brother or sister to welcome into our home and lives - amazing places, these hospitals!
The novelist Paul Coleho seems to sum up this bitter sweet experience in claiming "if you're brave enough to say goodbye, life will reward you with a new hello"
Paul Coelho's claim seems to sum up the Methodist stationing system. Having said goodbye to an outgoing minister/s, only a short time later (if the system is working well) those congregational goodbyes quickly turn into a rewarding hello - God is good!
Jesus, we know, was deeply and intimately aware of the utter goodness of his heavenly Father and ours. In his final discourse with his disciples in John's Gospel, in keeping with Paul Coelho's claim, he maintains that his departure from their lives will have deep and lasting benefits for them. His going will bring about the extraordinary blessings of Pentecost in the coming of the Spirit. The words of Dr Suess seem to get to the heart of Jesus' departing words to the disciples, "don't cry because it is over - smile because it happened".
As Liz and I prepare to leave the circuit, and our time as your ministers draws to a close, we too would wish you to know just how important the time we have shared with you has been to us. Your friendship and support has kept us energised and will be something we will look back on with gratitude and thanksgiving, long into the future.
Just as Jesus in John's Gospel prayed that the future lives of the disciples would be characterised by a loving unity (that they be one), so Liz and I pray that this same loving unity will continue to deeply colour the life of Four Oaks Methodist Church in the times of exciting but testing change that lie ahead.
The very first message I wrote to you in September 2012 stressed how excited Liz and I were that our journey of faith was joining that of yours. Five years later, in this last message perhaps the words of one anonymous writer best express our current feelings:
"Yesterday brought the beginning, tomorrow brings the end, though somewhere in the middle we became the best of friends."
With great thanks to you all and much love and blessing for your onward journey in Christ.
John & Liz