By Rev. Clay Oglesbee
There are some questions I’ve wrestled with in the last year or two as I have prepared for retirement. Do clergy retire? For that matter, ought Christians to retire from active ministry? Maybe a better way to put the question would be: Ought we ever retire from loving God and neighbor? The answer seems obvious: No, faithfulness does not “stop” being faithful at some arbitrary age; Christians don’t stop loving God and neighbor because they have hit the starting year and month for their Social Security benefits or their pension.
That said, however, many of us tend to dramatically disengage from responsibility and active ministry. We find ways to diminish our discipleship a lot by making our “retirements” across the full span of life’s commitments. Works of mercy, justice, prayer, and worship begin to come in as “also-rans” compared to our preferred forms of play and rest in retirement.
This year, I am taking formal retirement as a United Methodist pastor after 37 years of pastoral service and superintendency. Formal retirement won’t really last long as I will continue to serve First UMC of Red Wing through December. Alongside that, I am beginning to offer spiritual direction. I am also looking into how I can serve effectively in the area of policies to protect the earth and all creatures from the worst risks of climate change on our only planet. So the idea of retirement has less meaning for me than I thought it would when I was a younger person.
Retirement itself is a cipher, and freedom is also a cipher. What we freely give of ourselves after retiring is the true question and challenge. As author and commentator David Brooks recently wrote in “The Second Mountain”: “Personal, social, and emotional freedom—when it becomes an ultimate end—absolutely sucks. It leads to a random, busy life with no discernible direction, no firm foundation….It turns out that freedom isn’t an ocean you want to spend your life in. Freedom is a river you want to get across so you can plant yourself on the other side—and fully commit to something.”
As pastor and author Chuck Swindoll once said, “One of my great goals in life is to live long enough to where I am in the pulpit, preaching my heart out, and I die on the spot, my chin hits the pulpit—boom!—and I’m down and out. What a way to die!” By chance, I was only a few feet away and witnessed this very thing when former Minnesota Bishop Wayne Clymer stood to preach at a funeral at Brooklyn United Methodist Church a few years ago. He collapsed in the pulpit and never recovered. What a remarkable finish to his race.
The point is the not where we die per se, but how we live! Is there life-long evidence of the vital patterns of authentic Wesleyan faith: doing no harm, doing good in many ways, and using the means of grace (worship, study, prayer, holy conversation, etc.)? Or will we stop all that when we reach a dignified old age?
How about you? Are you still loving God and neighbor? Still praying? Still participating in worship? Still increasing in your generosity? Still serving others? Or have you retired your own faithfulness from active duty?
Rev. Clay Oglesbee serves First United Methodist Church of Red Wing.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church