After someone told him that they had seen his obituary, Mark Twain is said to have responded with, “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.” In my years of ministry, people with fairly common names have often received calls from someone seeing an obituary with their name in it. Several I know well have quoted Twain’s response to their caller.
Sometimes, however, the reports are true. This past Monday, I announced to the Administrative Board my intention to retire from Bethany at the end of this calendar year – December 31, 2023. August 1st marked my 22nd anniversary of serving as the “pastor in charge” of Bethany United Methodist Church. Coupled with my wife’s retirement as of August 1st and the closure of the Discernment Process after the upcoming vote, it seemed to both Cindi and me that the time had come for me to step down.
I leave after 41 years under appointment in the Southwest Texas and now, Rio Texas Annual Conferences. I have served at FUMC, Austin; South Bluff UMC, Corpus Christi; Lutie Watkins Memorial UMC, Llano; FUMC, Seguin; and finally, Bethany UMC. That covers a wide range of sizes and settings! I was involved with building projects in Llano and Seguin as well as multiple building projects at Bethany. I was particularly blessed to serve with Corpus Christi Metro Ministries; Corpus Christi Habitat for Humanity; Seguin Area Recovery; Harvesting in Spanish, El Salvador; and World Vision, Kenya. The latter two gave me the opportunity to serve in places I never, even in my wildest imagination, thought I would see. Of all the mission projects with which I have been involved, the Matete ADP in Kenya stands out for me as the place/time in which I most clearly saw the amazing hand of God working. (We’ll talk more about that in October.)
In my 22 years at Bethany, I have been blessed to build relationships with so many wonderful people. You have given me the high privilege of being with you in times of illness and death as well as births and celebrations. I have had the joy to both baptize and, later, confirm some of our young members. I have buried some of our beloved friends and I have done weddings for others. I have shared Christmas and Easter celebrations with you. I have struggled, together with you, through COVID and Discernment. Sometimes it has been terribly hard. Sometimes it has been wonderfully joyful. Always, it has been deeply rich and powerful.
As for what lies ahead for me, there are still several factors in play. But I do know that we will be spending more time with our family. The demands of full-time ministry are often hardest on the pastor’s family. I have much reading and writing to catch up on. I have guitars, cars, and a bicycle which all miss my attention. And I have a sense that God is still holding things in store for me which He has not shared with me – yet.
As for what lies ahead for Bethany, that depends on the decisions you make in the next few weeks and the response you make to those decisions. I do know that you have an amazing staff leading Christ’s ministry at Bethany. Your clergy are the best that Rio Texas has to offer. The laypeople in leadership at Bethany are dedicated and amazingly committed. God has done so many great works through Bethany. Yet, I am confident that God has even greater things in mind for Bethany’s future. I am excited to watch how that future unfolds.
There is sadness in reaching this decision – we have walked together for many years and through many challenges. There is also a sense of completion. It is time. But there is anticipation and excitement about what God may hold for the future – both for Bethany and for the Devineys. God has deeply blessed us over many years. I know that God will continue to do so. Our relationship will change, come the end of the year. But what will not change is that God still holds the future of the Deviney household and of Bethany. And God’s future is always good.