Saying Goodbye to a Church that Lives Up to its Name

11102609_10153176357864764_3797439597059949549_nOur church said goodbye to us this weekend, and did it well.

We didn’t make it easy. The farewell was supposed to happen two weeks ago after my final sermon at Grace Baptist Church, but my wife’s emergency gall bladder surgery would have kept her from taking part. So the church graciously postponed the festivities until she could be there.

Gracious. Grace. I love being part of a church that lives up to its name.

Since the announcement of our departure five weeks ago, we’ve been flooded with cards and messages and kind words spoken to us in the church lobby and at grocery stores and restaurants around town. All have been encouraging, many have been tearful (on both sides), and we have been so overwhelmed that we rarely find words in the moment to say what we would like to say. There has been a vaguely frustrating side to this process – where can we say what we want to say, NEED to say, to a church that has meant so much to us?

This morning, it dawned on me – I have a blog! So while space won’t allow us to say everything, here is some of what is on our hearts. We will write it, and trust that it will get around to those who need to hear it.

Thank you, Grace, for so warmly embracing us more than 13 years ago. We were fresh from the mission field, we were in reverse culture shock, we wondered if we had done the right thing in coming, and you provided a soft place for us to land and begin again.

Thank you, Grace, for caring for us through seasons of grief. Just six months after we arrived, we experienced the worst week of our lives – my mother died suddenly, my father had a major heart attack, and Murf had a life-changing car accident. You were there for us. Five years later, we lost Murf’s mother, my brother, and my father in the space of four months. Again, you were there for us. We will never forget that.

Thank you, Grace, for your heart for the world. When we came, a colleague predicted that mobilizing Grace for Missions would be like pushing a car downhill. I later told him that he was wrong – it was like pushing 20 cars downhill, and trying to keep up with them! In my candidating sermon in 2000, I asked you NOT to invite me to come unless you were prepared to provide the resources and the people to make a world-wide impact for Christ. You were, and you are. Guiding that process has been a privilege that I can’t put into words.

Thank you, Grace, for your heart for God. The most powerful corporate worship experiences of my life have taken place among you, led by colleagues and volunteers who delight in using their musical gifts to bring others powerfully into the presence of God.

Thank you, Grace, for your love for God’s word. Every pastor dreams of preaching in a church where people are eager to study, understand, and revel in the truth of God. The most unforgettable preaching moments of my life happened among you.

Thank you, Grace, for providing the sabbatical that changed my life. During those three months in the Fall of 2011, I discovered that Jesus was serious about His promise of rest for our souls. I’m now committed to the diligent, life-long pursuit of God’s gift of Sabbath rest. That delightful pursuit led directly to the existence of this blog (which by the way, I plan to continue). God used your generous offer of the sabbatical to teach me to rest. I hope you will never stop caring for your pastors in that way.

Our transition to Grace from France in 2001 was made easier by the wonderful farewell we received from our church in Menton. Those expressions of love and kindness helped us to close that chapter and move to Santa Clarita with energy and hope for the future. As we prepare to move to Heights Church in Prescott, we are sensing that same level of energy and hope. Your expressions of love and kindness are a huge part of that, and we appreciate them more than we could ever say.

We love you, Grace Baptist Church, and are incredibly grateful for the time that we have spent here. We take wonderful memories to Arizona, along with the confidence that our relationship with you is not really ending – after all, our daughter and son-in-law and two grandsons will remain among you, and they will have a magnetic pull on us. So you will see us from time to time.

But until then, thank you. Thank you for being the kind of church mentioned in Hebrews 13:17, where believers are encouraged to be sources of joy to those who keep watch over their souls.

For us, you have been that source of joy. Grace to you.

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About Sabbath Thoughts

My name is Mike Gaston. I am a former missionary, a Shepherding Pastor at Heights Church in Prescott, AZ, a happy husband, a spoiled father of two daughters, a proud grandfather, and a recently-convinced pursuer of the benefits of intentional, regular, contemplative, Christ-centered rest. This blog will allow me to share thoughts about Sabbath, as well as thoughts about God and the Christian life that come out of my restful Sabbath moments.
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20 Responses to Saying Goodbye to a Church that Lives Up to its Name

  1. Ross says:

    Thank you for your ministry, especially to us Grace Group leaders!

  2. Kathy Clark says:

    Thank you, Pastor Mike, for teaching me how to care for and love on missionaries. Through the Mission Information meetings you held, you did such a great job of teaching the care of our missionaries. As I left that area of Calif, I took so much of what you taught with me. I still look at you as MY Missions Pastor!! THANK YOU!!!!

  3. Linda Olson says:

    We are no longer a part of Grace, but still feel the impact you have made on our life. So thankful for your blog. Godspeed!

  4. Lori O'Bryan says:

    And thank you Mike and Murf. May your next 13 years be an equal blessing for you with a lot less grief and loss. We know God used it to help perfect you. Thank you for showing Grace how it’s done.

  5. LInda Hollingworth says:

    We wanted to say “goodbye” in person, to two people that have impacted us (even though you probably didn’t even know it). Perhaps that is the way with pastors. We feel that we know so much about you, we care about your lives, and your inspiration for us is not easy to express. Still, even though you probably hardly knew us, “because I knew you… I have been changed for the better.” We will love you both and know God is continuing to use you for His kingdom. Blessings, always!

  6. Dede says:

    You will be missed!!!

  7. Penny Burch says:

    I love the thought of keeping watch over each other’s souls, and so we, the body of Christ will keep watch always. And…because of your blog we can stay connected. Grace 2 u Pastor Mike.


    • Isn’t that a beautiful phrase, Penny? It’s among my favorite descriptions of spiritual leadership. Attached to it in the Hebrews passage, of course, is the daunting phrase “…those who will have to give an account.” So it comes with responsibility, but I still love the idea. Grace to you as well.

  8. debra petrella says:

    Mike and Murf we will love you both always, and will keep you in our prayers, and for all God’s going to do through such an amazing team, Merrill and Gaston. Makes us smile just thinking of this dream team. Bless you both, see you on FB

  9. Ken Royer says:

    You have served well, and are very much loved. Thanks for your hearts which are tender to HIS leading, and for in turn shepherding those who look to you. God bless you our dear friends.

    Ken & Mary Royer

  10. Holly Rogers says:

    Thank you again for the way you and your ministry touched our family in so many ways. I look forward to reading your future blogs. God’s richest blessings on you and Murf as you journey on to the next stage of what God has planned for you both.

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