Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell. Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.
--2 Corinthians 13:11, NRSV
Yesterday was a day of great rejoicing. There were smiles, handshakes and hugs, and a few tears. My heart overflows this morning. I rejoice that the Spirit brought me here to be a Conference Minister.
Through my In-Care years, in that extended time of preparing for ordained ministry, I was always appreciative of the ministry of my Associate Conference Minister, the Rev. Bill Schwab. I looked up to Bill, and he taught me to appreciate the work of the wider Church. I will soon become Bill's pastor at St. Peter's U.C.C., a church where Bill served with distinction after leaving Conference ministry. Life comes full circle in this new call.
I remain convinced that the Conference is an important setting of the United Church of Christ. It is the hub of connectivity. It represents a living relationship with the Risen Christ It is the gathering place for hearts and minds, a space to confer with one another about things that matter: What is God calling us to be and do today? Who are our neighbors? What is essential now? The Conference cares for congregations and clergy. It moves us to mission with a larger vision than our local contexts. It helps us to speak faithfully in the public square. As I leave, I hope seeds have been sown to ensure the vitality of the Conference in the times yet to come. The New Hampshire Conference matters. The United Church of Christ matters. Your support matters now more than ever.
Thank you for your gifts--the words, notes, cards and symbols of appreciation. My heart overflows with gratitude today! I shall always be grateful for your support. I will not forget. Thank you!
Finally, farewell. God is with you as you journey in faith into the future.
Peace & Power to you!
The Rev. Gary M. Schulte
A copy of my homily from the farewell worship is posted below.
A Homily for the End
12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us,
12:2 looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.
12:3 Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart.
~ New Revised Standard Version
Running the Race That Is Set Before Us
Today, we are at end of the covenant. God’s call is moving us all to new ministries. We are here to celebrate the call that brought us together, and we are here to release one another from the vows that have undergirded our relationship. It is time to say good-bye: “God be with you!”
But before we do that, there is one last word for us. It is fitting to return to the text from Hebrews, Chapter 12, to let it frame what has been a significant ministry for me—and I sense for many of you. Some of you were at Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ on November 5, 2006, when a covenant was created, promises were spoken, and I became your Conference Minister. I remember. It was All Saints Sunday. My mentor and colleague, the Rev. Dr. Robert Baur preached from Hebrews 12 and taught us about the saints of the Evangelical Synod of North America—Joseph Reiger, Louis Nolau, and Sammy Press—whose legacy continues to have a shaping influence in the United Church of Christ.
In my sojourn with you, I have seen other saints and cherish their memories. As I go, I cherish the saints who have shared life and ministry with me: Lucy Alexander, Doug Hedstrom, Don Derse, Ray Burton, LouAnn and Ed Brueggemann, Doris and John Saturley, Gordon Sherman, Paul Shenk, David Slater (and Drama Dearie), and so many, many others. I have come to cherish the stories of the saints of the Congregational Christian Churches. They have run with perseverance the race that was set before them. They have inspired our spirits and moved us to be faithful to the Gospel even when such faithfulness comes at a great cost. They have taught us to fix our eyes on Jesus, “the pioneer and perfecter of our faith,” who endured the shame and suffering of the cross, assured that joy was “set before” him. The finish line of Christ’s service was not death, but life; not sorrow, but joy; not suffering, but salvation in the fullest sense of the word.
If we are to be the church of Jesus Christ in this new day, we must also keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. We must see our lives reflected in his and his in ours. We must “resist the powers of evil” and share in Christ’s sufferings. We must, in the words of Marian Wright Edelman, stand up when we would rather sit down. We must speak up when others tell us to shut up. Being the church is not for the timid or faint of heart. And, I see the church in you! You are God’s holy sanctuary city. You are salt and light. You are God’s great hope for the world.
Yes, we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses. Living saints are all around us today—right here, right now in this sanctuary. You have challenged me to be a faithful and courageous disciple of Jesus. You have helped me to learn how to be a Conference Minister. You have taken an introverted pastor from rural Missouri had encouraged him to find his voice and be a prophet in places of power—in the pulpits of your churches, in the streets of your cities and towns, in the State House in Concord, and in the Church House in Cleveland. We have run a mighty long marathon together.
I am leaving, but the race is not yet over for any of us. In this moment, I want to encourage you—beloved saints in the New Hampshire Conference of the United Church of Christ and my dear colleagues in Conference Ministry—to keep running the race that is before you. As I leave this call, there is still a race to be run. Do not reminisce about the leg of the race that we have already run—its victories and its disappointments, looking back down the track and second guessing what might have been. Nor can we rest prematurely, relying on what others have done in the 216 years that the New Hampshire Conference has been gathered—the race always remains before us—out there in front of us—where Jesus is.
There is still a race to be run out there where torches and crosses still burn . . . out there where walls are built to segregate and separate humanity . . . out there where religion is used as wedge to divide God’s children. There is a race still to be run when children are hungry, when the addicted die by the thousands, when kindred are despised because they seem so strange and different. There is a race to be run when white privilege remains invisible and white supremacy destroys the fabric of our society and leads our children to embrace hate and violence. There is a race to be run when immigrant neighbors and asylum seekers, like Terry Rombot, are detained and deported. There is a race to be run as God’s beautiful creation is destroyed by our greed and consumption of the Earth’s resources.
There is a race to be run when our churches imagine themselves to be so diminished that they cannot love God or their neighbors. I am convinced that no church is too small or too poor or too old to matter and to make a difference in God’s world. Our mission is not maintenance and institutional survival but faithfully following Jesus down paths of loving service—from the cross to the joy. We are Christ’s ambassadors of hope, justice, and peace.
So, do not grow weary in running this race, breathe in the fresh, sweet breath of the Spirit of the Living God. The breath of resurrection is within you. Breathe it in, and then breathe it out into a broken and dying world. Breathe it out into those whose hearts are filled with fear. Breathe it out upon those whose hubris is sinful and whose egos threaten to destroy the world. Do not grow weary when the hills and mountains loom large on the path before you. One step, another step, yet another . . . and the race will be won. Do not lose heart. Do not lose heart, for you do not run this race alone. You do not run this race in vain. Your faithful Savior is with you. The saints of the church—seen and unseen—a great cloud of witnesses surrounds you, inspires you, and cheers you on.
Know that I will always be grateful for God’s call that carried me to your Conference and for the privilege of having been your Conference Minister. Know that I now join that cloud of witnesses—united in ministry with you somewhere out there in the hills of Missouri. Know that in a sanctuary in a river town called Washington—a silent prayer will ascend for your endurance, your perseverance, and your faithfulness. So, let us run with perseverance the race that is before us. Farewell, my dear friends. May God be with you.