I took my day off today...I did call the church to see if a repair that needed done got done...but besides that, I took my day off.
I used to brag to other priests about how zealously I guarded my time away--and I did. But over the last few years I've found it harder and harder to 'stay away' on my day off and I've taken less and less of my vacation in large chunks. Part of that was that when a wondrous assistant I had left, it was harder and harder for me to trust the place to another...or even 'others'.
Often, in the last few years, I'd even go to a movie somewhere in Waterbury and then 'drop in' to say hello at the church. Of course, in a church like St. John's there is no such thing as 'dropping in' or just saying 'hello'. Life there is always pretty much teeming. St. John's is the ecclesiastical equivalent of a rain forest. Something is always happening, someone is always passing through, every moment is pretty much pulsating with life. So, 'dropping by' might turn into an hour or so and saying 'hello' meant it was hard to say 'goodbye'.
I do regret the loss of big chunks of vacation time that I gave up because I wasn't sure I wouldn't be needed. That was hubris, by in large, though not completely. I remember times when I took a month long vacation--even at St. John's. But somehow I stopped that in the last 5 years or so. Part of that was the loss of the greatest Episcopal priest vacation destination ever--Block Island, Rhode Island. St. Anne's on Block Island didn't have a full time priest so if you were willing to be available and to do the Sunday services you could stay in their rectory for free. I did that time and again. But they eventually had enough wealthy folks move to the Island, though only part time, that they decided they could afford a full time priest. Bye-bye free vacation spot!
Anyway, part of it is our dog--he's 4 years, 10 months old and Bern loves him so much she can't stand to kennel him for longer than a week or so. That's cut down on leaving for long periods as well. But much of it has been the gathering and expanding need I had to be there.
When people ask me why I'm retiring so young I should probably tell them if I don't do it now I probably would have to be removed from St. John's by the Bishop and Federal Marshals. I'm able to leave now--in another year I'd start wearing out my welcome at the same time it became impossible to leave....Just a thought.
It does occur to me that when I'm taking my 'terminal sabbatical' (that sounds final, huh?) in May, June and July I'll have to begin to adjust to the reality of 'not being there'. It will be, I know, harder than I think it will be. (I only took two months of my sabbatical I earned five years ago and half my vacation for the last few years. I thought about asking to be paid for all that time I 'didn't take' but it seemed silly since I was the one who decided not to....)
I had a long talk with the mail carrier who serves St. John's this week. Everyone, even lots of people I don't know and have never, to my knowledge, know of, is aware that I'm retiring. The thing is I can walk around in downtown Waterbury and 80% of the people speak to me as 'Jim' or 'pastor' or 'Father'. I told John the mailman that I'd given some of the best years of my life to St. John's. Not untrue. I was just 42 when I arrived and will be barely 63 when I leave. For a man, those should be the most productive years of your working life--unless you're Steve Jobs or Bill Gates or a pro athlete. So there is a big piece of me that has seeped into the stone and wood and air and flesh of St. John's. It will leave a gaping open wound in my psyche and heart when I leave. I'm not sure what the cure is, of if there is one.
Mostly I already wonder if I stayed a year or two too long already and fantasize about what it would have been like to stay a year or two longer. All of that is vanity, I know, so don't tell me! But I do hope my decision will be good for me, very good, and, prayerfully, even better for St. John's.
Someday, I know, I'll reflect on what I did and didn't do, what I succeeded at and failed with--stuff like that. But now it is just the reality of the leaving--that it IS going to happen now--that consumes me. I don't expect to be able to be as faithful to my day off in the next three months as I was today--but I'll try. I don't want the last 3 months to be radically different from the 247 months that came before. I have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep and, as of today, I have 91 days left to continue to try to be who I have tried to 'be' for these 20 1/2 years....There is world enough and time for other pondering in the months and years to come after April.
For now, I am still the Rector of St. John's on the Green in Waterbury, CT--proud, humbled, challenged, amused, confounded to be so....
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- my day off
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