Anytime one spends several years taking root in one geographical locale, working in the same general field, raising a family, becoming involved in the community, it’s likely that one can start to feel overwhelmed. That’s especially true if that one is I (admit it ; “me” would sound better there).

The word “no” has always been difficult for me to say; I never wanted to let people down, because I liked being liked. So I said yes to almost every invitation that came down the pike. And, after some 25 years in Richmond, VA, from my seminary years to my three half-time jobs (yeah, I know), I was, to use the common term, over-committed. I was serving the Bon Air Presbyterian Church as half-time Associate Pastor, I was teaching and directing the Video Education Center half-time at the Presbyterian School of Christian Education (PSCE), and I was still doing radio programs and some speaking engagements (another half-time, many weeks).

Somewhere, I wish I could remember the circumstance so as to give credit where it’s due, I got the idea of drawing my life in the form of a tree. I think I had read of Jesus’ “I am the vine…” statement, and I was thinking of the benefits of pruning in order to make any vine more fruitful. Aha! That’s my life, I thought. But I was better at drawing trees than vines, so I drew a big tree, with my name on the trunk. I drew the main branches as church, family, teaching, media ministry, and community service. And each branch had its own extensions.

Then, when every aspect of my life had been noted on that tree, I looked to see what I could prune. What board might I resign from? What activity could I curtail? Now, as I implied earlier, this was a 25 year-old tree, and it was in full bloom, but threatened somehow.

Then we hit our big year. Joan and I came to year 25 of our marriage. And our daughter Wendy was hitting a pretty big year too. She was graduating from college, moving into her first full-time job, and getting married. Son Jim was graduating from high school that same year, and heading to college in Maine. But wait! There’s more. The senior pastor under whom I served was retiring. And the president of PSCE had resigned to move to other work. There were some other signs that change was in the air. PSCE was under financial stress, and radio airtime for public service programming was drying up. Maybe pruning wasn’t the issue. I needed a chainsaw.

Joan and I wanted to renew our wedding vows and we asked our close friend Judy Sutherland to “officiate.” She agreed, but only if we sat with her for some mid-marital counseling. Those conversations with Judy were wonderful experiences, culminating with her challenging us to do three things that we had never done, but maybe meant to, in our quarter century together. It turns out that one of those things was moving to Vermont. Not what Judy had intended.

How that came about is the stuff of “call.” Earlier in this series of Lenten writings, I wrote of our thinking about moving to a New England church and how a particular church was “open,” though a year earlier than we were able to move. (Jim still had one last year of high school at the time, and we couldn’t uproot him just a year from graduation.) Well, someone else was called to that church, and we put the thought away. Until an ad appeared in a church publication a year later, and that church was open again. The candidate couldn’t accept the call, it turns out.

So, in our personal fullness of time (see “our big year” above), I took a big breath (praying) and applied to the East Craftsbury Presbyterian Church. Being a viable candidate, I was invited to preach at a neutral pulpit, met with the appropriate committees, and went back to Richmond where my big tree continued to grow. We waited. And a few weeks later, at the doctor’s office for a routine physical, I happened to pick up a copy of “Yankee Magazine,” and there in the centerfold was a photo of the Bailey-Hazen Road, Craftsbury, VT. I took it as a sign. Because it was.

The call came. Make that Call, with the capital C. Now, Joan’s mother had moved to Richmond to live out her years near us, she had assumed. She was not pleased that we were about to abandon her. But when our house went on the market and sold in one day (!), I think Betty was persuaded that this cosmic conspiracy of timing, trimming (remember my tree?), and signs was indeed God’s way of uprooting us and replanting us in our own promised land.

Of course, this uprooting was painful. Twenty-five years worth of friends, neighborhoods, connections, vocational adventures, and raising a family would be coming to an end. The Call came before our last Christmas in Richmond, and I remember leading the Christmas Eve service at Bon Air knowing it was our last in a very special place. I looked at the faces as carols were sung, hoping I could keep my composure through the final benediction. In a few weeks, I’d be doing my last radio program, ending an on-air presence of 26 years in Virginia. We had to say some hard goodbyes.

The day the moving van came was amazing. It started at the house in Bon Air, moved to the church for boxes of books and office furnishings, and then to the school for my office and equipment there. Was there room on the truck for the big record cabinet? Sure. Just barely. It would go on the shelf over the red Pontiac Sunbird. (Yes, one of our cars was in the van!)

As we drove over the Vermont state line, Joan cried. And that made me shed tears of joy, too. A new Call. New life. And I am convinced, a longer life, more simple, slower, re-centered, re-calibrated for fresh ministry alongside a faith-filled congregation.

Next…candle light in the darkness.

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