OCTOBER 12, 2018

I Remembered When

Dear Church,

Last Sunday I had three hours and forty-four minutes running through the twenty-nine neighborhoods in Chicago to reflect on the last ten and a half years serving First Church.  It was as if a thousand memories came flooding back to me.  Every step, another memory.  I remember sitting in the Alpen Rose Restaurant in Holland, MI meeting Don and Nyla, Skip and Marilyn, Pastor Mel and Betty and Pastor Willard High as they came to get a sense of this twenty-four-year-old who might be their next pastor.  I remember when the entire search committee drove up to Holland to literally present me with “The Call.”  I remember my first ever hospital visit when I saw Don Spiekhout at Ingalls after his brain aneurism.  I remember my first visit to someone who had just lost a loved one when I sat in Lois Van Vuren’s living room after Carl passed away.  I remember I didn’t know what a quorum meant at my first Consistory meeting.  

I remembered some of the big events like the visits and cards we received when Bram was in the hospital for a septic hip joint.  I remembered the surprise party we threw for Pastor Mel at Tiebel’s.  I remembered when Howard Taylor became the first African American to be elected to serve on Consistory and the Sunday we all laid hands on him.  I remembered August in 2010 when Anthony and Corey both came on staff and thinking to myself, “This could be fun.”  I remembered the voicemail I got from Roger DeGraff letting me know that Patti had died. I remembered the funerals of Jane Paarlberg and Harriet Santefort within weeks of each other.  I remembered Pastor Mel baptizing Willem and Pastor Corey baptizing Bram.  I remembered when some of you came up to Holland to watch me defend my thesis at the Seminary.  I remembered the truck load of our own Veterans we honored in the Memorial Day parade. I remember the cardboard testimonies on Easter morning.  

But more than all these big things, I remembered the little things like when Don and Nyla got my Bible rebound for my birthday. I remembered all the cards I’ve received from Mary Koster just letting me know she was praying for me.  I remembered all the 3478978 times I’ve been called “Pastor Matt” and “Master Patti” from the kids at Family Life.  I remembered my handshake with John Kraai walking down the center aisle after the Benediction on a Sunday morning.  I remembered driving Les Van Deursen and three other guys to Midway at 3:00am for their Honor Flight.  I remembered our community-build of the playground and tearing down walls in the Genesis Room.  I remembered the worship service we led in Division 11 Maximum Security Prison. I remembered Ryder Cup Golf Outings and heart-breaking defeats I’ve had in our fantasy baseball league.  I remembered the sidewalk we built in Annville, Kentucky. I remembered all the Pez dispensers Craig Nelson has given to my boys. 

To say “thank you” for these memories sounds trite. How can you adequately thank a congregation for loving you for nearly a third of your life?!  More than likely, I will never truly be able to express my deepest gratitude for all the wonderful memories, experiences and opportunities you all have given to me and my family.  What dawned on me at around mile twenty-two of the marathon was that nearly all the things I was remembering were fun.  Don’t get me wrong, there have been tough times, but nearly all of what I was remembering brought me joy and often laughter.  Maybe that’s what I’ve learned and maybe that’s what I’ve given. That serving the church is a joy-filled gift where we don’t take ourselves too seriously, where we’re quick to laugh and where things like warm hospitality go a long way.  I’ve heard previous pastors tell me they never had more fun than serving at First Church.  They are right.  To God be the glory.

Grace & Peace,

Pastor Matt