A MESSAGE FROM THE REV. J.C. AUSTIN:
EMBODYING THE MEANING OF ‘CARE’
The English word “care” has deep roots in multiple languages all the way back to Latin, but all of them hold the same two basic meanings. The first relates to burdens, difficulties, griefs, or worries; this was more common once than it is now, but you’ll still find people described in poetry or novels as “weighed down by many cares” or the like. The second meaning is how we tend to use it most commonly: providing for the welfare of another, as in describing someone attentively meeting the needs of a sick friend or relative as “providing loving care.”
In 2017, the Session called The Rev. Sue Bennetch to be our Pastoral Associate for Congregational Care, while our congregation was deep in the midst of a major split, or “schism,” over the full inclusion of LGBTQ+ people in the life of the church. Sue stepped in at that moment and has fulfilled her call ever since with unceasing dedication, abundant grace, light-hearted humor, and deep love for this church and all its members, but especially those who are carrying many “cares.”
At the end of August, Sue came to me and said that she felt it was finally time for her to retire from pastoral ministry, and that she would like her last Sunday to be October 3, the date when we are holding our “Blessing of the Animals” service that she helped create. Because of the Labor Day holiday and other scheduling issues, the Session was only able to meet and act on that request earlier this week, so we wanted notify you as soon as possible so you can make every effort to be present that day.
We will have a special celebration of Sue’s ministry after the 11:15 a.m. service on Sunday, October 3, and the Blessing of the Animals service will take place at 3 p.m. that afternoon, which will be her final act as one of our pastors.
In addition, the Session has authorized the collection of a retirement gift to show our thanks for Sue and the powerful ministry she has had among us; I encourage you to contribute to that gift by sending in a check or making an electronic payment that says “Bennetch retirement” in the memo section so that it can be properly credited to her gift.
Please make any such gifts by Wednesday, September 29 if at all possible; gifts will be accepted through the end of 2021 and passed on to her, but it will be easier and more impactful if we can give them to her in one collection on October 3, and we need to receive them by September 29 to ensure we can process them for the coming Sunday.
I will say more on October 3 about Sue, but I do want to take this opportunity in writing to remember just a few dimensions of her ministry and how important it has been to us as a congregation in embodying both the meanings of the word “care.”
First, there is her own ministry of caring. She has been a constant presence, counsel, and prayer partner for anyone suffering an illness, going to the hospital, struggling with how best to care for a loved one who is ill, or walking the long road of grief.
But perhaps even more important than that, she has also provided key leadership in developing our congregation’s ability to care for one another. She has been a catalyst and support for special programs and groups dedicated to helping us care for one another in the midst of challenges like depression or grief. She has been invaluable in the development of the Board of Deacons, which have both broadened and deepened their ministry during the time of her service, both in caring for individuals in a season of particular difficulty and for the congregation as a whole.
One of the most important new ministries of the church during the pandemic has been the Deacons stepping up to check in periodically on as many members of the congregation as possible, just to see how people were doing during the quarantine phase and to assure them that the church loves them and stands ready to help. And she volunteered to work with the Congregational Life Committee of the Session when it formed a few years ago, rightly seeing its work to nurture relationships and community across the congregation as another important form of care.
Given all that and so much more, please make every effort to be present on October 3 as we thank Sue for her good and faithful service and send her into retirement with a wonderful celebration. I look forward to seeing you there!
Grace and Peace,