Retired….? Not From Being a Missionary!

missions-at-homeThe following are excerpts (by Fox Rawlings) from the transcript of Miriam Rockness’s take on missions in her new hometown of Mt. Dora which she shared at the recent mission festival. This is part 1:

Fox’s request that I explore with you what it looks like to reach out to your community during retirement years, came at a good time. With 3 years in our new community, I’m able to reflect upon the events of these transitional years with the greater objectivity and clarity that comes with the passing of time.

We arrived in Mt. Dora on July 3, 2009 – a new destination where the only people we knew were Susan, our realtor and Toby our carpenter with whom we entrusted building bookcases in our absence. These people would, in truth, become our “first friends”, in Mt. Dora. I must confess that when the moving truck pulled out of our driveway that evening, I found the only empty space in the house – an upstairs sofa – and sat down and cried my eyes out. Dave found me – poor man – and had the everlasting patience to answer my blubbered questions “Why did we leave Lake Wales? Why did we come to this God-forsaken place” – with a detailed recall of each step by which God had guided us to this point and to this place. He also, wisely, made me put cold towels on my swollen eyes and took me to Applebee’s where we sat in a darkened corner and ate a late dinner!

There were several things that both Dave and I felt keenly for this new chapter in our lives: We both wanted to embrace fully what it was to be Christians – laypersons – in our neighborhood, community and church. Toward that end we bought a home that was close to town and chose to attend the only Presbyterian Church in the community. In fact, the first thing we did after signing the papers for our first home, ever (!) was to drive by the Presbyterian church where the music director gave us a tour – and we saw reassuring indications that this was a church in which we could worship and serve (tables set for Alpha, a Stephens Ministry – and testimony that the minister preached Bible-based, Christ-centered sermons.)

Which brings me – at last – to Fox’s challenge, and I quote: “What does the local mission field look like upon retirement from our church and entry into another community?” – or, in short, “missions every minute.” And I will take you on my pilgrimage through a few stories, a few confessions – and maybe a few principles that can be extracted and applied, hopefully, in any situation. Towards that end I want to look at 3 areas crucial to that mission: the church, the neighborhood, the local community.

The Missionary in the Pew. What is the role of the church in our mission? Fact is, “missionaries” need a home base: they need to connect with the visible body of Christ. (Ephesians 4) Where does one begin? How does one connect with one’s “brothers & sisters in Christ” – especially if they don’t yet know that I am their sister? We soon put to test all the things that we said, through the decades, to the newcomers to our church: “It takes time.” “You just need to get involved.” The first thing we learned was that you can have all the structures in place – a meet & greet during the service; coffee time before and/or after the services – but it still takes time and frankly a bit of social skill to get beyond “how do you do” to a conversation of significance. We disciplined ourselves to attend the fellowship time after the 11:00 service only to stand in line in silence (after a handshake or smile) if we didn’t pick up the conversational ball. (Learned a great conversation starter for Florida residents: “What brought you to this town?” Most people are from somewhere else – and a native Floridian is a state treasure!) A certain pattern began to emerge: the tables close to the refreshment table filled quickly with people who clearly knew each other and were eager to catch up. We spent most of the first year sitting at the fringe tables on the outside edge with other “newcomers” or “outsiders.” We promised ourselves to continue to do so as our relationships moved us, in time, closer to the center. How many times did we tell people in L.W. who didn’t feel connected “to hang in there.” “Get involved.” “It takes time.” Guess what? It does – all the above.

Over time we gradually became more involved – choir and circle (although I felt like an adulterous women on my 1st venture away from my circle of many years – only to discover that women are pretty much the same anywhere and the Bible is unchanging and inexhaustible), monthly fellowship dinners, a season’s end corn-boil and, even more gradually, we began to engage in certain ministries within the church. Yes, it does take time and effort but I’ll always be grateful to those “missionaries in the pew” who reached out and eased the strangeness of those early months.

Missionary in the Neighborhood. Who is my neighbor? Eventually our neighborhood took shape when Franja, a recently widowed Dutch woman moved next door, a permanent renter occupies the house at the end of the block, the northerners settled back in – and we began to bond with the occasional shared meal or tea. But our first “real neighbor was Craig, a horticulturist, who lived a block farther down the road. As a service for a mutual friend, he planted our 5 window boxes to prevent us from complete disgrace when our block was featured on the Annual Tour of Gardens. Yes, you heard me correctly! When we asked how we could repay him he had only one request: His partner, Joel, had always wanted to see inside one of the cottages on our street. So, we hosted a Christmas tea for Craig and Joel. We sat around the table, candles growing shorter as the afternoon wore on and I realized that our first neighbors – our first friends really, in our neighborhood – were a gay couple who had been recipients of home hospitality for the first time since moving to Mt. Dora.

Stay tuned for Part 2 in the next issue of the Dilgent.