The younger kids in the youth group were 2 or 3 years old when I started working at North. So, most of the youth group don’t have a lot of memories of church without me somewhere in them. Don’t get me wrong – I am not under any illusion that North won’t be North without me! They will get along just fine J However, nine years is a long time in the mind of a 12 or 15 or 18 year old – that’s half (or more) of their lives. And, to be honest, nine years is a long time in the mind of a 37 year old too!
Since I made the decision to leave, I’ve had one song from the musical Hamilton playing itself over and over in my mind – One Last Time:
One last time
Relax, have a drink with me
One last time
Let’s take a break tonight
And then we’ll teach them how to say goodbye
To say goodbye
You and I
George Washington just revealed to his right hand man, Alexander Hamilton, that he’s stepping down from his run for president. Hamilton is shocked. He’s ready to fight Thomas Jefferson – he’s willing to do whatever it takes to keep his President in office. Washington, however, has something else in mind. He’s ready to rest:
If I say goodbye, the nation learns to move on
It outlives me when I’m gone
Like the scripture says:
“Everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree
And no one shall make them afraid.”
They’ll be safe in the nation we’ve made
I wanna sit under my own vine and fig tree
A moment alone in the shade
At home in this nation we’ve made
One last time
Seriously. This musical is so good. If you haven’t listened yet, do it.
In particular the lines “One last time” and “Teach them how to say goodbye” are on repeat. I can’t get them out of my head. I think there’s a reason for that.
Over the last two months at almost every youth or church event I’ve said to myself: one last time. One last Lenten retreat. One last Holy Week. One last Easter Sunday. Not forever, obviously. But with them – this is the one last time I’ll do this with them.
They know how to say goodbye. Each year they say goodbye to another teacher. Some of had to say goodbye to loved ones. Others have said goodbye to friends who move away. They aren’t immune to goodbyes. However, the last group of youth to say goodbye to a youth minister at North are now in their mid-twenties. So, it’s been awhile. Unbeknownst to them (and me too, in a way), we had a trial run last fall. My sabbatical was a practice goodbye. And, it turns out, we all survived it. We survived that, so we know we can survive this.
Like Washington’s character in the musical, I want to teach them how to say goodbye. I want to help them process and understand what this means for them, me and us. I want to teach them that it’s important to pay attention to God’s quiet voice. I want to teach them that it’s okay to move on, change directions, try something new. I want to teach them that my decisions are not a reflection on how I feel about them. I want to teach them the wise Green Day lyrics: Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end. I want to teach them that love knows no boundaries – that I still love and trust and turn to my youth ministers and they can always trust and turn to me. I want to teach them that it won’t be the same and that’s okay – that doesn’t diminish what we had nor does it discount what we might have in the future. I want to teach them again, one last time, that they are so loved – always and forever.
And, most importantly, Washington knows that by teaching them how to say goodbye, he’s teaching them to take everything they’ve done together and make it their own. He knows the nation he helped create isn’t about him – it’s about the nation. Likewise, this ministry we’ve created together, they will take it and keep it moving forward. It’s never been my ministry – it was theirs. I just got to walk alongside them on the journey. It’s not time for me to sit under my fig tree – I think I’ve got a lot of years left before then! However, it is time to say goodbye to this chapter.
So, for one last time, I’m gonna teach them how to say goodbye…