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Stepping Back and Moving Forward

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From November to December, 2019, Eddie took a sabbatical for renewal and discernment. In this podcast, Eddie returns to The Parish and shares reflections from his time away and how God has met him and is leading him forward. Against the backdrop of John the Baptist, Eddie shares with our church that God is calling him to take a similar step back, and so he is resigning from his role as Rector of The Parish.

We encourage everyone in The Parish community to either listen to the podcast above, or read the transcript below. Over the coming weeks, we will continue processing this new direction for Eddie and its implications for our Church, while also beginning to look ahead for what God has in store for our community. On February 2nd, we will bless and send Eddie into the future God is calling him into, and we invite everyone in The Parish to join us for that time.

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Sermon Transcript

The last time I preached here at The Parish was on October 20. I’m a bit rusty, I’m afraid. And as I begin this morning I want to reach back and remember a bit of that day. Danielle and I shared with you about our journey over the past year, how we’ve had some difficult personal experiences that pushed me past my limits and led to a place of burnout and depression. It was a pretty heavy day, and we are so thankful for how gracious and loving you all were in walking through that day with us.

So now, almost three months later, much has happened, and there is a lot to catch up on. I’ve really enjoyed getting to meet with you and hear how these past few months have been while I’ve been away on sabbatical. It has been so encouraging to be here with you, to sit in the room with you and see what God is doing in this community. I can see that people have risen up, that the community is coming together in new ways, and that there is something new stirring in this place which is so encouraging. Thank you for being patient with me these past two weeks as I have tried to listen and hear the story of what the Lord is doing in this congregation.

But today is going to be a bit different, it’s a chance for me to reflect on the past two months and share what this journey has been like for me and my family. It’s also a chance to look ahead and see what is next for The Parish, and to begin discerning the next steps of an incredible future for this church.

First, I cannot say “thank you” enough to all of you for making the last two months of sabbatical a possibility for me and for our family. It was such a sweet time, a refreshing time, a revitalizing time. It is not something many people get the opportunity to take advantage of, and I feel incredibly fortunate to be a part of a church that has shown support in the way you have. We didn’t go anywhere, I didn’t take a vacation or go off to the mountaintop. I don’t have a slide show prepared, I didn’t write a book, I’m not dropping an album!

Instead, the time was spent largely with family and connecting with old friends. I spent a lot of time thinking, praying, processing all that God has done. I spent 20-something hours with my counselor, and God broke through some huge walls in my life that I didn’t know were still there. I was able to get to the core of some deep seated issues of fear, anger, and hurt that had been keeping me locked up through my entire life. We talk a lot here about the importance of Emotional Health, the last two months have been an emotional health boot camp.

And after that time and work, I am in many ways a pretty different person, which I hope you will experience as good news. If you want to know if that’s true, you can just ask my wife. I feel fundamentally different and fundamentally at peace with who I am and who I’m not, for the first time in my life. That is a priceless gift, and I cannot thank you enough for it. Thank you, all of you who stepped up in small ways and big ways during my absence. You have, as Philemon 7 says, refreshed my heart through your love and encouragement.

And as I turned to the lectionary passage today from the Gospel of John, I just laughed. As always, this passage could not speak more perfectly to exactly what God is doing in our midst right now. The past few months, for me and for our church, has been a time of uncertainty. I know several of you have asked me, “So, how was your time away? What did you learn?” And I can tell, understandably so, that there’s something in all of us that’s asking “So, what’s next? Are you okay? Is everything back to normal? Are we back on track?”

And I have to imagine the people in this story felt much the same way. The narrative opens on John the Baptist, preaching and baptizing in the wilderness as he had done for a long time. This was his life’s work, his ministry built from nothing, his calling from God. For those who listened to John, how could they possibly imagine that Jesus was about to enter the picture? Sure, John had prepared the way, he had readied the crowd for this precise moment. But for all they knew, Jesus was the son of a tradesman from a backwater town. What did he have to offer? This was John’s moment, John’s wheelhouse. He was the rebel prophet, and he was good at it. The ministry was flourishing. All signs pointed up and to the right, and people knew what to expect.

And then comes a grand disturbance. To us the arrival of Jesus is good news, the best news. To us, this is the origin story, the beginning of the story of Jesus. This is chapter 1 of John’s gospel.

But to the people with John that day, it was a disruption, a change in the process, something unknown, something obscure, something intimidating and scary. To the people gathered around John that day, this felt much more like the last chapter than the first.

But John points the way forward, which has always been his calling and purpose. He reveals Jesus as the Son of God, and steps out of the way. The verses I am most drawn to in this passage are verses 35-37: “The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.

This is such an important moment. Here stands John, this pivotal figure. A man who Jesus refers to as the greatest who has ever lived.

John is the man, and yet in this moment two of his disciples choose to walk away. They’ve dedicated their lives to studying under John, listening to his teaching, following his way of life, staking their own safety and reputation on the truth of his prophetic word. They had sacrificed a lot for John, and when Jesus walks by they simply walk away.

This was a difficult day. In some ways, it was what John had prepared for his entire life. This was the moment he was born to see, this was the pinnacle of a life well lived. He had done the hard thing, he had preached the word of God, he had spoken when everyone else remained silent. And in this moment, his role was not to speak up, but was to become silent. To step back and slip quietly into the shadows.

We have all experienced moments like this. Times of transition and change, where our whole world seems to flipped in an instant. In some ways, everything before has been leading to the moment, and at the same time we know that nothing will ever be the same. They are complex moments, times of fear and joy, freedom and sadness, death and new life.

Now, I am not John the Baptist, I couldn’t tie John the Baptist’s shoes. But today, I think this story is a really good picture of what is happening in this community right now, in many ways.

The biggest thing that I discerned during my time away was that it is time for me to follow John’s lead and step back. It is time for me to officially resign as pastor of The Parish. I communicated this to our Vestry last Sunday evening, and I will be officially transitioning away from The Parish after my last Sunday, February 2nd.

I know some of you probably expected this after my time away, and others of you may be surprised. So I wanted to take a few moments to help explain what I have been hearing from the Lord during the past few months, how we got here. I hope to answer some of your big questions, and to point the way forward to a new chapter for this amazing church.

First of all, it is very sad to be leaving this community. This is a special place, and I consider you to be very dear friends. I may not look sad today, but trust me there have been many sad hours and difficult moments processing this decision. It is sad to say goodbye to what has been an incredible chapter of life and growth. This is the ending of a season, and endings are always hard.

In fact, I am thankful that today is hard for me, personally, because it means that I’m stepping aside at the right time. If I was all smiles and ready to skip out the door without looking back, it would mean I was leaving for the wrong reasons. But I can see now that the sadness of facing this moment has kept me holding on for too long, hesitant to let go, hesitant to surrender to the unknown both for my family and for this church.

One important thing I learned during my time away is that holding on too long is selfish, and that I needed to face my fear and honestly accept that my time as pastor had come to an end. More importantly, the Lord made it very clear that the next chapter of my life is not going to be in professional ministry. I am not planning to go work at another church or ministry, I’m hoping to transition out of full-time ministry and into a totally different vocational calling.

I have seen many of you in this room leave ministry roles and find fulfillment and purpose in other work, in other parts of our community. I owe you a huge “thank you,” walking with you has helped me see that this path is even possible. You have been my teachers in this journey, and the Lord is calling me to follow in your footsteps.

Why? Why after all these years and all these sermons about health and limits and mission, why do I need to leave? Precisely because of the health and limits and mission I have preached about for years. As I looked back over the past six years, I looked back with joy and appreciation for all that God has done and brought us through. But I could also see for the first time that something was different within me. I was gripping everything too tightly. I was fearful to let go, and it was causing problems for me and for others around me.

One precious gift the Lord revealed during my time was the true desire of my heart, a deep desire to explore life-changing ideas. The Lord created me to be an explorer and experimenter, to challenge the system, to look for the extra-ordinary and call it out in a way that helps people grow and change. In the first years of The Parish, that is exactly what we did. We challenged everything. This church as lights and smoke machines… what would happen if we didn’t? This church has small groups… what would happen if we never did small groups? This church has a building… what would happen if we stayed flexible instead? At every turn, we explored and experimented. It was fun, it was fascinating, God did amazing things through it.

And we did some things that were just downright dumb! We met on Saturday nights, until college football season….not smart. Then Sunday nights, until our kids started going to school and we realized how hard that was for families. Most of these were my decisions, I have to totally own my explorer ignorance! In every case, God gently guided us and kept the church growing and moving.

But what I have been too fearful to see over the past few years is that the church has changed, in the best possible way. We aren’t a baby church plant any longer. We are a living, breathing, growing church. And as The Parish has grown, its needs have changed. The Parish needs someone with a different gifting than mine, a different passion than mine. The church needs someone that is a builder and sustainer, someone who loves to take existing things and help them grow. It is time for a new leader to emerge, and a new season of life and beauty here at The Parish. It is time for this explorer to step aside and let the Lord build through someone else.

Finding this explorer part of myself helped me see for the first time that my heart was in tension because I was living out of a deeply-rooted survivor self. Although God made me to be an explorer, I was largely living and leading as a people-pleaser, something the Lord never created me to be. Many times those things came into direct conflict, a conflict inside myself, a wrestling match that often reared its head in other relationships, but it was never really about those relationships. The Lord didn’t create me to be a people-pleaser, and as I came to realize that through some really difficult inner work, my true heart began to emerge. And very quickly, I began to sense a clear calling from the Lord to step out of ministry and into a new chapter.

So I know this is just a tidbit, a small fraction of all that God did during the sabbatical season, and I’m happy to tell you all about it at another time. But I hope you can see that God has been leading in a really profound way, and He is doing some amazing things both inside of me, and inside of this church.

Some of you may wonder, “Okay, what’s the real story? Is your marriage falling apart? Are you going to jail?” Sadly, I know that your questions are warranted. It’s not often that a pastor makes an announcement like this without some kind of shadowy secret in the corner. I’ve experienced that before, and I know that some of your stories have deep woundings from moments like that. But one of the things I am happiest about in this journey is that I can wholeheartedly say, this is the story. Sure, there’s been a lot of pain, and a lot of difficult moments that I won’t unpack in detail because it wouldn’t be appropriate here. But I am not leaving as a burned-out victim. You don’t owe me an apology in the slightest. I love you, and I’m so thankful for you.

I’m leaving with my faith in Jesus intact, a family who still loves me, a marriage that is so much healthier and still getting better each day, and life-long friendships that have formed in this very room. Thanks to your grace and patience, and the patience of our leaders, I am sad to leave but really grateful to be leaving well.

So, what is next? Well for myself and my family, sadly it means that after February 2nd you won’t see us at The Parish on Sundays. I can understand why that might make sense in some respects, but unfortunately it is not in the church’s best interest for me to remain actively involved in the community for the next chapter of this church’s journey. My family will need to separate and eventually find another church home. This is really sad for me, and one of the things that’s kept me from making this decision is thinking, “where else would we go?,” but moving on allows the church to turn the page to a new leader with unquestioned authority, and to celebrate a new chapter without looking back constantly. So if this is sad news for you, then know you’re not alone because I am sad too. Every separation is hard, and sad, and we need to embrace that fully rather than ignore it.

But, as we have talked about many times over the past six years, every ending, however sad, also contains a seed of something important. In fact, to help understand this, I wanted to share something with you. Something that blew me away during my time away.

One of the things I am most grateful for during my sabbatical was the chance to connect with many old friends, people who knew me before I was a pastor, before I had any idea of who I was. One of those people was a friend named Richard Chancy. If you didn’t get a chance to know Richard, he was such a special man. He has encouraged both Danielle and I in some pivotal moments of our lives, he was a very special person to us.

Richard and I sat down for coffee in November, at my Starbucks office, which we both worked from together over the past six years. When I sat down with Richard that day and explained what was going on, what I was wrestling with and how I felt like I maybe needed to let go of ministry, I immediately started taking notes. As always, he offered some huge wisdom, and the first thing I wrote down was this quote: “I wish I had let go of the desire of future greatness earlier.” This hit me like a ton of bricks, because it was true of me. I needed to let go. I was holding on, not wanting to admit that I wasn’t the right person to carry this vision forward. Not wanting to admit that I had shortcomings, that my time was ending.

And then, four days later I got a call from a mutual Starbucks friend that Richard had died. Suddenly, unexpectedly, of a freak heart attack – in one of the most fit and healthy people I knew. It was shocking, it still is shocking. I couldn’t believe that he was gone. I’m going to be wrestling with it for a while. But it immediately made me go back, pull out my notes, and take a deep breath. God was speaking to me, and to us.

And as if that wasn’t enough, Richard left me with one last word of wisdom. Richard had built a consulting company for pastors, to help encourage and strengthen their ministries. He was constantly posting videos, and later that day, after he had already been taken to be with Jesus, a video he recorded earlier in the week was posted on his site. I wanted to share it with you, because I think if Richard could be here he’d want to say the same thing to all of us.

Now, there are some things there I’d push back on a little bit here. I don’t think God will kill you, so don’t get hung up on that. I don’t think God killed my friend, that’s not true. But what he’s saying is so important. Sometimes we just need to let go. If we don’t let go, we are robbing the world of the resurrection that is waiting on the other side.

That is true of me, and it’s true of this church as well. This ministry is not done. This church is very much alive and healthy, growing and changing in some amazing ways. The future of this church is brighter, I think, than it has ever been. And one of the reasons I’m so excited to see the resurrection, to see the next chapter of this dream, is because of the people who are going to be leading The Parish into the next season.

Many of you don’t know this, but over the past year we formalized a Vestry, a governing body for the finances and administration of our church. And although I didn’t know it at the time, it was so important and at just the right time. Because now, that Vestry, which is made up of great people who love Jesus and love this church, they are taking the baton. They are stepping forward to guide this church through a discernment process, to discern the next steps.

In fact, I want to bring Andy Culp up to help explain that even more. I’ve talked already about what is next for me, but there is so much more that is next for The Parish, and I’m so thankful that Andy will be helping this church listen to the Lord and walk forward with confidence and excitement.

Andy shared next steps and remarks on behalf of the Vestry:

On behalf of the Vestry, I have been asked to share a few remarks, communicate some pertinent details and invite this community into the next season of The Parish.  But honestly it was these opening words that were the hardest for me to write. How does one bridge two sentences … this space between a period that announces completion, and a new word that brings something afresh.  Please allow me to try by showing you two images. This is the front cover of Katie’s Bible. 22 breath prayers line the inside cover – words of pastoral care, challenge and guidance over the past few years. They have not simply been summations of sermons, meant to memorialize a pastor’s teachings, but instead, invitations from Eddie to commune with a Holy God in the simple, yet sacred cadence of everyday life.  

Throughout the margins of my Bible, Eddie’s words have been written – wise, thoughtful, provocative at times, yet humble words reflecting the voice of one who had spent time with the Father and sought to clear a pathway to help others walk in the way of Jesus.  

It was in one of his teachings from the Gospel of Luke, in reflecting on the Triumphal Entry and Jesus’ need for a colt on which to ride, that Eddie spoke of the owners of the colt.  Of the “Lords” who gave up the colt for Christ, Eddie said:

The call of discipleship is one where we recognize that we ultimately do not own anything. The temptation of ownership is to install ourselves as Lords. But discipleship looks like a daily releasing of a life that we were never Lord over in the first place.” 

I am proud to have been pastored by a man who is willing to follow his own teaching from the pulpit.  A week ago, the Vestry accepted Eddie’s resignation as Rector, Pastor, Leader of The Parish. It was a gesture of a man releasing something that he knows he was never Lord over in the first place. 

Eddie, thank you for being a leader worth following – one who has, and continues to model the life of a disciple.  There will be opportunities to share with you and bless you as you leave this community, but for these next few moments, I’d like to speak to The Parish family. 

Last Sunday night Eddie expressed to the Vestry a confirmation that came from prayer and discernment during his sabbatical. Eddie shared his decision to resign.  While the Vestry affirmed this decision, like all of us in this room, we felt much. We still do and will continue to sit in this emotionally – emotions of surprise, sadness and grief.  We have questions about what to do, what’s next, how do we get there, what does God have for us – But in the midst of the uncertainty there is a peace that stems from the conviction that this is the right decision – one that honors the Lord, honors Eddie’s family and honors the families of The Parish.  Whether we’ve sat with this information for the last 7 days or the last 7 minutes, it is something that is still fresh for all of us.  It would be arrogant and foolish to say “here are steps – The A/B/Cs of what we are going to do.” But what we can say, is that there are many families in this church, and specifically a group of 5 couples making up The Vestry, who love the Lord, love the expression of His body at The Parish, and are committed to the future of it. 

This group was formed a little under a year ago, as a step of maturity in the life of The Parish.  After several years of Ministry Leadership and Advisory Teams, The Parish formed our first Vestry – a congregational leadership body within the Anglican Church structure.  Under Eddie’s direction we began the prayerful work of governance, eldership, and organizational oversight of a church plant that had grown from a baby, into a toddler, and has now become a full fledged 7-year old, with all of the energy, excitement, and aptitude – along with the need for formal guidance, instruction, and accountability …. All under an umbrella of love.  This is the Vestry.

May I take minute to introduce this group to you.  If you have been at The Parish for any season of time, you know these couples well.  You have experienced their love, their wisdom, their maturity – and seen evidence of their desire to grow in Christ and practice His way of life.  For those of you who may not yet know these couples, seek them out and see the amazing things that the Lord is doing through these men and women, through their families and in their service at the Parish.  I have asked them to stand, so that those of you who may not know them can see and get to know each couple.  

  • Andy and Lisa Goddard
  • Mike and Beth Nelson
  • Jordan and Holly Warner
  • Adam and Sara White
  • And Katie and I are honored to serve on the Vestry as well.

I am going to ask them to stay standing for a minute. When this group said yes to stepping onto the Vestry a year ago, today is not what we imagined.  In many ways, is not what we signed up for. But over these months of sabbatical and specifically this past week, we have prayerfully made the decision that this is what we will choose to stand up for.  In prayerful humility, and unwavering unity, we are not anything but confident that there is a future for The Parish. We believe that the Lord is honored here in our teaching and worship, the Spirit is present here in the hearts and lives of His people, and Christ has redeemed, called and sustains this body for His glory.  This is our conviction and in love we pledge to walk alongside each of you as we follow the Lord together at The Parish.   

You can find all of our contact information on the back table and it will be shared with you digitally this week. Please know that while we have been tasked with leading this process, we do not seek to be alone in this process. We desire to walk this together as a community and we invite questions, dialogue, feedback, and your wise counsel as we discern next steps together as a church. 

But let me tell you where we are.  Be assured that we are actively praying, meeting, listening, discerning and working on a plan for this coming season of The Parish.  Kris McDaniel, lead pastor of Trinity Anglican, and our direct support within the diocese, is working with the Vestry, hand-in-hand, to guide us through the process and the decisions ahead.  And there will be decisions and changes ahead for The Parish. But one of the reasons that we as a Vestry are hopeful, is because provision from the Lord has already been happening.  Over the past several months, Jordan and Holly were asked to step into a role of stewardship of the church while Eddie was on sabbatical.  Over these weeks and months, the Spirit has been present, the Lord has been worshiped, and His kingdom has come in this little church in an office complex, in Alpharetta, Georgia. This has looked like beautiful music sung to God, compelling teaching from the Scriptures, sacrificial service from so many in this room, generous giving from a community, and sweet, steady, substitutional leadership from Jordan.  His gifting has not just been evident, but his leadership has been invitational and expressive within our body these past months. Thank you, Jordan. 

We find ourselves this morning in a place of sadness and change, but certainly not in one of abandon.  Not from a place of leadership and certainly not from a faithful, eternal and sovereign God. 

In closing, one quality of an effective leader, is that when he or she is gone, what they have led continues on – even grows and matures without them.  Eddie, thank you for planting us well and leading us well over the past 6 years.  Your sound, godly leadership is evidenced by a church that has been beautifully growing in Christ and practicing the way of Jesus, even more so in your absence. Thank you.  

Please hear this – Practically, today, and officially, February 2nd, is the end of Eddie’s season of pastorally leading the Parish, but this is not the end of The Parish.  You will be hearing from us as a Vestry and we most definitely want to hear from you.  We desire to walk alongside you and sit at tables together with you as we follow the Lord with courage and obedience.  

And speaking of tables. Another phrase of Eddie’s that is written in my Bible next to a passage of Luke is this:” 

“Jesus did far more ministry from a table than from a pulpit.” 

Eddie, may this be true where the Lord leads you from here, and may it be true for us, throughout the season ahead, and specifically this morning as we approach His table together and we take communion.  

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