The following is my religion column for the Friday, June 18, 2010 issue of the Tribune & Georgia.
When my wife, Victoria, and I hiked the Appalachian Trail, we enjoyed a lot of single-serving friendships. As we were hiking north for six months, we often ran into someone hiking south. We would sometimes just nod and keep walking, but more typically a brief conversation would ensue. And in these brief snippets we would often just learn the basics of who someone was, where they were coming from and how far they were going.
We did use these short meetings to find out about folks further up ahead and to share news of others we had passed along the way. Then one such single serving friendship was transformative. A hiker I will never forget, whose name we never heard appeared out of a dense fog one morning to say that he decided that these brief exchanges didn’t have to start at the beginning “Hi, I’m Frank and this is my wife, Victoria.” Instead, we could begin in the middle. Then without a name or other introduction, he shared how the morning was more science fiction than trail fact and people just appeared from the fog as if transported from no where. With that, he vanished into that same fog and we learned to take conversations further, faster if we wanted to really benefit from our short-lived exchanges in days full of hiking. That briefest of conversations left us changed for the better.
This is my farewell column for the Tribune and Georgian
and as such, the last brief conversation we will have through this newspaper. I am thankful for you, gentle readers. Many of you have been with me for the more than 200 columns I have written. We have been through a lot together since my first column “How much sin is too much to forgive?” debuted in this space on June 22, 2001 to wonder aloud about American terrorist Timothy McVeigh’s last minute confession.
Since then, the worldwide tragedy of September 11 and smaller, closer to home grief of dealing with the paper mill closing and taking with it hundreds of jobs as well as the many other events large and small have taken up our thoughts and been in our prayers. We have considered cloning, stem cell research, just war theory and the ethics of torture alongside forgiveness, stewardship and how to live more fully into the faith that is in us.
Writing a column can be a one-sided affair, with me off writing in my little office in my home in Sugarmill and y’all reading wherever you make time for the paper. There is no reason that the writing and the reading need intersect. But it has never worked that way in Camden County. I have often been stopped at Publix or WalMart or Blockbuster to continue a conversation begun in this column. Many readers have shared with me favorite thoughts, including the columns that were hung on the refrigerator or laminated. I have also enjoyed it when someone emailed to let me know how the follow-up discussion went in a Bible Study at their church.
Rather than a column in which I write and you read, the column evolved into something more like a conversation. The word conversation comes from Latin root, which literally means “to turn about with.” The same root gives us “conversion.” Real conversation is a genuine back and forth in which those conversing change direction together. I thank you for being conversation partners with me and for the ways you have helped me to change direction over time. I hope that even if you haven’t agreed with me, that you were given pause to think about your own beliefs.
In this idea of conversion through conversation, we see that it has not just been a conversation between writer and reader, but the Holy Spirit has been in the conversation as well. For my words alone do not have the power of conversion unless God uses my words to get one’s attention and then do something with them beyond the ability of words alone.
This is just like what happens in a sermon. Each week, more than 100 pastors prayerfully consider how to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with those in the pews in Camden County. Certainly the God-given skill of the preacher comes into play. But even more important is what God does with the words as they are spoken.
I have never spoken to a pastor about preaching who has not been able to tell of a time when someone referred to something not said outright in the sermon, which proved significant to the hearer. What is heard is not identical with what is preached and thanks be to God that this is so. The rest of what happens in sermon (and the most important part) is what the Holy Spirit does in the heart of the hearer. And so it is with the readers touched by something they read from me in this space.
Now this conversation comes to an end. I begin work July 1 as Canon for Congregational Ministries of the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia
. That mouthful of words means that I will share with our bishop in the task of tending the clergy and congregations of south Georgia. I feel called by God to this vocation. Yet every call to something is a call away from something else. In part, it is a call away from this conversation carried on through the newspaper. Someone new will take over this column, just as I took up where Bob Moon left off. The conversation continues with a new person writing alongside my conversation partner Donna Grice.
But this is not goodbye. There is no such thing as goodbye in the Kingdom of God, in the sense of a final parting. For as the faith we have is not in vain, we will see one another again, if not on earth, then in heaven. It is only farewell we say, or ta ta for now. For if the words I have written have been used by God to good effect, then we will be together again.
(The Rev. Frank Logue was the founding pastor of King of Peace Episcopal Church in Kingsland, serving that congregation from its beginning in 2000 until this past Sunday.)
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