When I first considered what to offer in this space, I landed on a famous essay by philosopher Peter Singer. In “Famine, Affluence, and Morality,” which you can find on Google and read in full, Singer attempts to recast our obligation to help those in need in light of 1972’s new, globalized world. His argument is compelling, and the results are unsettling for us. What is more unsettling, though, is that the way of Jesus demands more. I tend to miss the mark of what Jesus requires of those who follow Him. We all do. But, it can be punishing to live as if what is most true about ourselves is a failure to do enough.
Pastors who look like Jim England and are of the same origins in space and time as Jim, in terms of sweeping generalization, tend to emphasize the idea that what is most true about us is failure. From the beginning of time, thus has come the punishing theology of guilt, shame, and remorse and the God who shames, banishes, and condemns in Baptist churches.
Of course, I bring all this up to remind myself and each of you how remarkable Jim is: for who he is, far more than who he is not.
As a young colleague with far more wisdom now than when Jim first arrived, Jim has meant a great deal to me, far more than I can articulate in a time of social distance. But, you must know as much is true for all of the staff, even as I speak for myself.
You know, of course, Jim of the pulpit: God’s love and grace and redemption that carries us through and beyond our traumas into wholeness. If you are lucky, you know Jim in other ways, too, from what our world looked like before the Great Interregnum, which is yet dark and full of terrors though now ending (or, if you prefer, the Interim). And now a global pandemic, amidst which Highland will continue to live.
I am fortunate to know Jim of the pulpit and Jim as colleague, mentor, and friend. His wisdom has offered me, and us, a path forward when the way has been shut. He has advocated for the staff, and for me, in moments when if not for him it is unclear what could have been done. He has given space for me to breathe when humor and wit are the only things that cut through the reality that life is sometimes overwhelming and hard. He has not been our chaplain, as he has been chaplain to so many throughout his life, but he has been something including that and unlike any senior pastor I have ever experienced: made precisely for this moment and the litany of moments we have encountered since Joe and Nina first retired.
So, this is not a word on philosophers and moral obligation and the demands of Jesus. It is a word of thanks, however incomplete, for Jim. I hope you will take the time to offer your own if you have not already. Even better, get to know Jim starting now as someone who is no longer Interim Proclaimer, one who returns among the congregation having ensured the life of this church continues far more than most will ever know, who is a gift to us this very day.