Easing into retirement
Retired? Do priests retire? Well yes, at least in the Church in which I have served for more than a quarter-century. The calendar cannot be denied: turn 65, and the very next month you start collecting your pension. The ordination rite doesn’t mention this explicitly, but suggests that this vocation is a life-long calling. Once a priest, always a priest: so how can a priest just stop?
That’s a very good question. I’ve been wrestling with it for several years, as my 65th birthday loomed closer and closer. I spent one particularly difficult retreat working through the terror the idea of retirement provoked in me. The terror was subdued by a realization that I could see retirement not so much as an end but as a beginning. This could be the first time in my life when I would be free to undertakeministry without the institutional demands of parish life. The question is then, “What will this ministry look like?”
Now I’m past 65: retired and relocated. My last Sunday in the parish was June 23. It’s now September 14 (Holy Cross Day, if you’re interested), and we are now beginning to be settled here in our new place. It’s time to turn my attention to what my calling will be in the next months and years. One thing is clear: I don’t want to make any snap decisions. It would have been possible to jump right into an interim priest-in-charge role, but it seems necessary to take time to learn how to be retired. As an interim, it would be more of the same kind of thing I have just left. Do I want to do that? Time will tell, but at the moment, I feel no urge to be in charge of a congregation.
My dearly beloved and I have decided to worship at a parish church with a good choir, giving us the chance to sing together inliturgy for the first time since my last year at theological college in the winter of 1987. The choir director says I’m “hiding out in Holy Trinity Choir.” Maybe so!
Over the coming months, I intend to use this blog to reflect on the process of retirement, from both personal and corporate viewpoints. The exercise is largely for my own benefit, but if any of my ruminations hit a chord, either positively or negatively, I would be glad to hear of it.