And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:6)
Retirement is a serious business in the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion), in a country in which there are minimal or non-existent pensions and inadequate healthcare for senior citizens. It is a particular challenge for clergy, who must often fend for themselves. Mandatory retirement age is 70, and to be sure that everyone was fully aware, and birth certificates have not been lost, each bishop’s retirement date is published every year. Shortly before my 70th birthday, Angela and I were called forward at a meeting of the Provincial Synod and we were each given a one-time cash payment of $1000 as our pension. I tried to object, knowing that for many of the poorer bishops this was a substantial amount of money. I was sure they could make better use of it than I could, but I was told, quite firmly, that was not an option. We expressed our heartfelt thanks and thought again about the importance of preparation for retirement.
The first and perhaps most important question is, “What are we retiring to?” Not “What are we retiring from?” Bishop Dave Bena, a dear friend and mentor, has retired a number of times. He retired from military service (he served with distinction as a Marine and then in the US Air Force), and he retired as the suffragan bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Albany, as my suffragan bishop in CANA, and most recently as the assistant bishop of the Anglican Diocese of the Living Word. He is something of an expert on retirement! But he spells it “retire-ment,” declaring that it is an opportunity to change tires and start a new journey.
One of the great blessings of ordained ministry is that while our particular place of service may change, our call to Gospel ministry remains unchanged – it is a lifelong call. There are always opportunities for witness, prayer, and service – wherever we live and at whatever stage of life we find ourselves. One of the most important ministries during this season is that of encouragement, and I have seen this lived out with great effect at the Church of the Holy Cross in Raleigh, North Carolina, where our son Jon serves as rector. He is blessed to have two retired clergy couples as members of the congregation. Bill and Donna retired after serving parishes in New Jersey as part of CANA, and Brian and Mary served in New Mexico. Both couples moved to Raleigh to be near family, but all of them have become a vital part of the Holy Cross community. They understand the pressures of being a rector, especially during these times of uncertainty, and they all know some of the thankless, hidden aspects of church leadership. They are relentless in their prayers, practical support, and encouragement of Jon and Celeste. It is a remarkable, life-giving gift.
Angela and I have also been blessed by the encouragement and support of a number of retired clergy – especially Fred. We came to know Fred during our time at Truro after he had retired from a career in education. Fred loves to serve and encourage, and he was a key part of our pastoral visitation ministry. Even though we are now separated by years and distance, Fred continues to encourage us through his letters and cards that always appear at our birthdays and anniversaries. Encouragement is a vital ministry and is commended in various places in scripture – somebody counted more than 100 places in the New Testament. Two of my favorites are these: “Therefore, encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing” (1 Thessalonians 5:1) and “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24–25) Both of these texts make clear that encouragement is a vital ministry of the church at all times, and it is something to which we can all commit ourselves.
A particular dimension of encouragement is “mentorship,” for which we take the lessons that we have learned and share them with younger clergy. I have been enormously blessed by the mentors I have had over the years, and while I cannot list them all, I can salute one of my earliest mentors, The Right Reverend Dr. John H. Rodgers, Jr., Dean/President Emeritus of Trinity School for Ministry and a founding bishop of the Anglican Mission in the Americas. Angela and I met John and his wife Blanche during our first year at Virginia Seminary (1975) and were greatly encouraged by their remarkable faith and love. Throughout our years of ministry John has always been a source of wisdom and strength for us, and now during our time in Pittsburgh, we have been able to reconnect yet again. A few months ago we had lunch with John, and just after we sat down to eat, he asked our waitress if he could pray for her as we said a prayer over the meal. She immediately teared up and told him that her granny had just died and that she was missing her greatly. John offered a grace-filled prayer for her, and I realized that in his 92nd year, John could still teach me a few lessons about evangelism!
For those of us blessed with children and grandchildren, we also have the privilege of mentoring our own family. I wrote about our strategy for this in my letter on grandparents. You may recall that I described this mentoring as having four dimensions: 1) Sharing Traditions, 2) Spending Time, 3) Telling Stories and 4) Persistent Prayer. I don’t believe that we need to limit this vital work to our personal descendants, but do it whenever we have the opportunity to influence the rising generation.
One final story – David (1940-2021) and Rosemary Prior were dear friends and mentors for many years. They served parishes in Cape Town, Oxford, and London. In their latter years, David served at Christ Memorial Chapel on Jupiter Island in Hobe Sound, Florida, a very affluent community with a high percentage of retirees. In one of his early sermons David announced, with his characteristic charm and sincerity, that to “help them die well” was a key aspect of his ministry! Perhaps that is an important word for each of us …
As it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9)
Wishing you a blessed and fulfilling retirement …
Your brother in Christ,