By Bo Bowen
I moved to Jackson County in spring 2019, a wide-eyed minister beginning his first-ever “senior pastor” position. I was reverent of the call and excited for what lay ahead. Our congregation had been through several years of upheaval, and I was eager to shepherd them through a relocation and into a fresh, new pasture just off Highway 124 in west Jefferson. My family put down roots and we embraced our new community, our imaginations brimming with possibilities for the future.
One thing we certainly did not imagine was that, only two years later, I’d be saying goodbye not only to Jackson County, but to pastoral ministry as a whole.
My story isn’t unique. It happens to ministers all the time. New pastors come into a church, they either lead poorly or inherit poor leaders, and the inevitable dust-up sends them packing. While many soon find other churches to lead, studies show that each month approximately 250 pastors leave the ministry altogether. Some stagger away, beaten down or burned out. Others, like me, leave because, for all their passion and their talents, the employment well has run dry. We still believe God has called us to serve his Church, but, sadly, no churches are interested.
As you might imagine, the pandemic hasn’t made things any easier. And there comes a point when you have to go where the work is. This fall, for me, that will not be another local church, but rather a high school literature classroom west of Atlanta.
Before I go, though, the pastor who still resides in me wants to do a thing pastors often do, if only one more time. I want to offer a blessing. I’d like to share a word of affection, a kiss before I go, to this community that my family and I have happily called home.
Back in 2019, I started submitting to the Herald a monthly column encouraging all residents of Jackson County, churchgoing or not, to recognize and embrace the goodness all around us. A few made it to print. Unfortunately, soon after, a handful of headstrong members in a pandemic-rattled congregation decided I just wasn’t their cup of tea. C’est la vie. C’est l’Église.
The things is, we’ve all been through the ringer. Whatever your political persuasion or cultural concern, we’re all shuffling out of the same dark cave, shielding our eyes from the disapproving glare of a new dawn. What kind of blessing, then, might we embrace together? What encouragement could we all equally need?
In a word, forgiveness.
Beloved, may you forgive others, knowing you yourselves are already forgiven all things. Or, as the Apostle Paul writes, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
If my all-too-common story of failure can leave even a shred of a legacy, may it be to forgive one another. Those who’ve wronged you by their actions, or by a lack of action. Those who’ve frightened you by their ideologies or offended you by their worldviews. Those you’re told not to listen to, respect, or trust. Those who’ve insulted you, maligned you, turned their backs on you. Even those who see no error in their ways. May you forgive them all.
If the last 18 months have taught us anything, it’s that life is short and contempt isn’t worth its weight. Forgive, that you may live above the fray of our cynical society. Forgive, that resentment might wane and love might grow. Forgive, because you are forgiven. Now and forever.
I offer this blessing, Jackson County, and pray many more to come. Farewell, my friends.