Quietly Withdraw

In Woodbine, as with most of coastal Georgia, the soil is sandy, and nearly black. It stains everything. We parked our cars on sand, since we didn’t have a driveway at our house, and so every time we would go somewhere, I would shake the sand from my shoes, so that it wouldn’t stain the car flooring as badly.

I was still learning what it meant to be itinerant, and placed in the hands of those who determine the next place of ministry. I was also still learning the scriptures, and continued to study them and grow deeper in understanding.

The day that we moved from that place, I remember consciously choosing not to knock the sand from my shoes. I remember not shaking the dust from my feet. Yes, it had been tough there, I had traveled through the most difficult years of adolescence isolated in a tiny town with no friends. But, there were still glimpses of God’s glory there. God’s kingdom was present, even if it remained veiled to the world, and a lonely sixteen year old girl. I believed there was still hope there, and so my sixteen year old self did not want to make a claim of a lack of God’s ministry where hope still existed.

I was reading the gospel account of Jesus sending out the disciples recently. Previously, when I had read it, I had zeroed in on the “shaking the dust from your feet” and saw it as permission to make claims of the presence or blessing of God. But then this time, I was reading from Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase, The Message, and read these words:

“When you knock on a door, be courteous in your greeting. If they welcome you, be gentle in your conversation. If they don’t welcome you, quietly withdraw. Don’t make a scene. Shrug your shoulders and be on your way.” Matthew 10:14 MSG

This reading of the scripture seems to hold far more grace than a returning of the very dust accumulated from a place. Sometimes, in ministry, a place is not ready for a person, or a person is not ready for a specific place. Personalities can be very strong. But, hope is still there. “Quietly withdraw.”

In a system where a new pastor is always ready to replace the outgoing pastor, a church doesn’t need a scandal, instead a church needs a place to grieve and a space for transition. Regardless of the way that the pastor who is leaving served the church, and regardless of the talents and strengths of the incoming pastor, there will usually be some time of retrospection and a tendency to wish for things the way they used to be.

As I prepare to go on my way to a new church and a new ministry, I plan to go on quietly. God’s presence and God’s Kingdom are very real in both the place from which I take my leave, and the place I prepare to serve. I pray that God’s ministry will blossom ever more fully in these spaces. I pray that God will grant wisdom and strength on those who desire to respond to the call to step out of their places of comfort.


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