Having recently celebrated my 75th birthday means I have been retired from full-time ministry for five years. When I retired from Armidale in 2012 I joked, ‘rooster today, feather duster tomorrow’! Thankfully, someone said to me, ‘Peter, don’t forget that feather dusters are still useful!’ I value that comment because I have not found retirement an easy gig, even though it has been very fulfilling. I have had to work hard at reminding myself of truths which I have always believed – truths such as my worth not in being a pastor but as one justified by faith and adopted by God, and of the priesthood and ministry of all believers. I am also thankful to God for the example of many older believers and must be content, like them, to take a back seat and look for opportunities to minister in different ways. Retiring from stipendiary ministry does not mean retiring from ministry.
It is actually a great relief not to have all the institutional and local-church leadership responsibilities. Locum stints have reminded me of this, as I have once again felt the great pressures upon those who are serving as Rectors and Vicars. I have a growing appreciation of the demands of local-church pastoring, especially during the pandemic.
I have resolved not to fall into that most debilitating sin of being a grumpy old minister, which Hebrews 12:15 calls ‘bitterness’. The antidote that I am learning to employ is thankfulness to God for what I can do rather than moaning about what I can no longer do, for the younger pastors under whose ministry I am privileged to sit and the people in the congregations who are there because of God’s sovereign work of grace in them as in me.
Hebrews’ exhortation in 10:24-25 has reminded me that church is not about me – I am to intentionally consider how to help others to love and good deeds. It is a team game, where we run and train together, professing Christ (10:23) by turning up every week to spur each other on. Could we ever imagine Pat Cummins going fishing or water skiing when a Test is on?
We are conscripts in Christ’s service. Where did the (mistaken) concept of believers being volunteers come from? I do know that it is the source of much discouragement to local church pastors and leaders, and a danger to those who have fallen into its seductive arms. The alternative? To recognise that the greatest gift we can give our brothers and sisters in Christ is to turn up every week (planning trips away or catch-ups with friends mid-week rather than on Sundays), with an expectant and considerate heart.
Healthy congregations cannot be built on faithful preaching alone but on the backs of disciples who encourage each other with thoughtful words (Ephesians 4:29) and selfless actions (Galatians 5:13).
Many retired people have been a great blessing to me. One was Jean, whom I met in Wee Waa as she and the music team were tuning up. ‘Bishop,’ she asked, ‘what do you think of all these new tunes to the old hymns?’ I replied, ‘Jean, there are many young people around the Diocese who are singing these old hymns because of the new tunes.’ I was much encouraged when she replied, ‘Well that’s good enough for me!’
She gave up her ‘druthers’ because she was glad younger believers were benefitting from those older hymns. The second was Billy, who moved into an Armidale nursing home to be with his wife. The icing on the cake of that selflessness was his asking me to buy $100 worth of gospels and tracts so he could share Christ with the old people! I want to be like them. Retirement means I now need to consciously look for these opportunities, but they are there. Retirement gives me more time to pray for these opportunities to share, and for the people God has led me to.
I am learning to know my limits (the heart is willing but the boy is weak – oops I just noticed the typo – the body and the boy are weak) and I need to examine my motives. Mind you, if I had waited for my motives to be faultless in ministry I probably would not have done anything! So I tell Satan to get lost, whilst asking our Lord for forgiveness and grace (Hebrews 4:14-16 is so realistically encouraging). Selfcare is vital so we can work and pray well until He takes us home. The line from Morning Prayer, ‘whose service is perfect freedom’, has been on my heart for 55 years; I thank God for it and for those who have exemplified its truth to me.
W H Griffith-Thomas’s words remain true.
What I have, He claims;
What He claims, I yield;
What I yield, He takes;
What He takes, He fills;
What he fills, He uses;
What he uses, He keeps;
What he keeps, He satisfies.
Bishop Peter Brain is the former Bishop Of Armidale who these days has a great ministry as a locum. He is married to Christine and they have four adult children and multiple grandchildren. Peter published Going the Distance in 2004. Somewhat appropriately the sub title is ‘How to stay fit for a lifetime of service'.