In ten weeks of retirement I have discovered that I am not defined by my vocation after all. It turns out that I never was. I sometimes thought I was, because parish ministry is so demanding that I felt a tiny guilt whenever I did anything unconnected with it.
Let me clarify that. Feeling guilt about something is not the same as being controlled by it. I always did lots of other things, spending many golden hours pleasing myself -- watching television, writing for publication, teaching night school, and just plain loafing. These were escapes from church, but not from guilt. I could escape guilt entirely only when I was too miserably sick either to work or play.
My new freedom is expressed in six little words: I get to go to church. In retirement I still preach when I am asked to, and I love doing it, but it is no longer expected of me as a regular thing. Yet going to church is still the high point of my week, indicating to me that my faith, not my job, defines me.
I get to go to church. An appreciative worshipper used to tell me how he would wake up on Sunday morning with the happy thought, "I get to go church today." Now I can say it too. I don't have to go to church. I get to go to church. Worship is not a duty and ordeal, but a high privilege—the opportunity to come to God and confront honestly the most significant issues in his world.
For the first time since seminary graduation, I am not the pastor of the church I attend. Instead, like the other worshippers, I have a pastor. I follow her leadership, accept her care, and learn from her preaching and teaching. In our common profession as ordained ministers, she and I are colleagues; but in the local church she is my pastor.
So now I get to do what I expected others to do throughout my career, and am learning that it is just as good as I thought it would be .