General Secretary Emeritus A. Roy Medley has enthusiastically engaged his retirement journey. In the first of a two-part series of reflections he describes thought-provoking “close-to-home” highlights of his retirement journey so far.
Part I: A Family, Gardening, Devotional and Congregational Perspective
By A. Roy Medley
“Well, how is retirement going?” Is a question I am often asked. And my first reply is that the retirement club is a great thing.
I know that everyone has his or her own vision for retirement. It certainly isn’t a one shoe fits all experience – no more so than any part of life. My retirement goals have included:
More time for family and friends, a better balance between doing and meditation and prayer, and continued involvement in ministry for those things for which I have an abiding passion.
Reconnecting with family and friends has been great. For most of my ministry I was constantly on the go. By the last years of my service as General Secretary, speaking and ministry opportunities meant that I was on the road 60 percent of the time. Now Pat and I simply have more time for each other, family and friends. Having time to nourish relationships that nourish us is life giving. And as much as all of us, clergy and lay alike, know that and talk about it, the demands of ministry and work for all of us, especially in an age when you are never disconnected from them, mean that the space for non-work relationships really gets whittled down.
Families wind up being strangers to each other if they aren’t mindful. So, it has been rejuvenating to have the time to simply be with family and friends and to be able to be fully present. For me that has meant planning things that we simply could not do before, like taking our grandson to Sesame Place, attending concerts, plays, and a New York Giants game, taking cooking classes in new cuisines and hosting friends at our home for dinner and conversation.
Generous friends and family have hosted us in Vermont, Estonia, Stockholm, Havre de Grace and Chattanooga.
What Jesus teaches us is that life revolves around our relationships (love of God and love of neighbor). Apart from these our souls become barren deserts. With these, we are the tree planted by the living waters that bears its fruit in season and out of season.
Retirement has meant an opportunity to explore connecting with God in different ways. Instead of rising and rushing out of the house for meetings or tasks that lie ahead with prayers along the way, I am enjoying awakening and in the quiet of the early morning offering my praise and prayers.
I am experimenting with a variety of devotional resources. I have especially enjoyed the richness of the prayer book. As with many liturgical worship resources it is interlaced with scriptural phrases and references that trigger other scriptures in my memory that invite me into the presence of God in Christ. Praying the hours is the Christian tradition that helps us fulfill the call of scripture to “pray without ceasing.” It is something I am still leaning into with Pat.
Reintegrating into my local congregation, First Baptist Church (FBC) of Freehold, NJ, has been another part of my reconnection with God and friends in a new way. With my former preaching and other responsibilities, if I was able to worship at FBC six times in a given year, I considered myself blessed. Now I am serving as a deacon and have completed service on our search committee for a new pastor.
The thickening of my relationships with my fellow congregants means we are more fully embedded in one another’s lives and the opportunity to grow in faith and practice together. As we talk and I learn their stories and histories, I am incredibly grateful for the many ways God has worked in their lives. What for them is often an “aw-shucks” kind of story, I find, as they share a narrative, it blazes with the beauty of God’s faithfulness and grace and how they are the hands and feet of Christ in selfless service. One discovers crusty characters with hearts of gold, and folks filled with kindness who have fortitude beyond comprehension. Together, we are learning to see God more fully in each other, our neighbor and the world.
The advice of Voltaire in his work Candide was to tend one’s own garden. Tending the garden beds that surround our home and FBC, Freehold, is another way in which I encounter God. How often the work of gardening draws forth parallels of how God tends us through the Spirit, weeding us, feeding and watering us, pruning and trimming us, and taking delight in us.
As I labor in the midst of these gardens, I am aware also of the beauty of a diverse creation and the gift that diversity is to us. Diversity ought not be feared as a threat but embraced as an adornment to life. And as I have sat and admired the beauty present in flowers and fountain, brick patterns, leaves and petals, I have also contemplated beauty as an ethical category and what it means as followers of Jesus to create oases of beauty in life through our presence as the church.
And one cannot garden without an awareness of the rhythm and changes of the season and the beauty not only of spring and summer, but also even of the shortening days of fall and winter and the importance, in the waning days of life, to not fret and be anxious but to trust our Creator/Savior who still works within and around us.
Our lives are yet His even now.