The Lord said, Jeremiah, I am your Creator, and before you were born, I chose you to speak for me to the nations. (Jeremiah 1:4-5)
People ask me why I have chosen to retire at this time in my life. Why do I want to stop doing ministry? Did the ministry become too difficult? Did some people hurt my feelings in some way?
The decision to retire developed over several years of soul searching and several factors led to making this decision. The Call of God is a vital part of ordained ministry for me. Like Jeremiah, I have felt the hand of the Lord upon my life since my youth. I strongly believe and trust that God has used my humble gifts to communicate the gospel through 36 years of ministry in the Presbyterian Church. This Call has always provided a solid reassuring presence of God in the many different situations in which I have served.
A couple of years ago, I began to sense the weakening of that call. The strength of doing ordained ministry in a parish setting began to ebb. Strangely enough, this weakening of Call came at a time when I felt very close in my relationship with the Lord. I felt strong in my sense of personal ministry, yet weak in my desire for ordained ministry. I was confused about this at first, but gradually, after much prayer and thought, I came to accept the fact that God no longer wanted me to minister as a pastor.
I wish God could be more specific about what this means for my life. It was not clear to me at first, what I was to do beyond retirement. It still is not clear! However, it is clear I need to retire. When I finally made the decision to retire, I felt a sense of peace within and knew I was making the right choice. It has felt that way ever since.
Retirement has come to be a positive step for me. I do not know what lies ahead for me, but I do know the One who leads me every step of the way. As Paul expressed to Timothy:
I know the one who I have faith in, and I am sure that he can guard until the last day what he has trusted me with. (2 Timothy 1:12)
I am looking forward to retirement. I am looking forward to enjoying a weekend, experiencing the rest of the Sabbath day, and worship with my family. I am also looking forward to doing ministry as an ordinary person and doing what I can to be a faithful church member. I am looking forward to having the time to visit my family that is scattered from Washington, D.C. to LaHaina, Maui in Hawaii.
Retiring from ordained ministry has in no way lessened the feeling of Gods hand being upon my life. What God has in mind for me is unclear, but I know the Lord is with me and will continue to guide my life in the years ahead. Through all lifes changes, we can always rely upon that one constant. As I was told at a retirement seminar, Retirement is not the ending of service to the Lord, only a redirecting of gifts in different ways. Our chief end in life is always to glorify God and enjoy him forever.
Thanks be to God!
The Rev. Dr. Joseph G. Holt
Joe and Karen will be leaving the Iron Range with sadness after 13 years of serving in the area.
Karen has accepted a call from Augustana Lutheran Church, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, to be their pastor. Augustana is a congregation looking to redevelop its mission. She will begin her ministry there on the First Sunday of Advent, November 28, 1999. Her last Sunday as pastor of Our Saviors Lutheran Church, Virginia, Minnesota is October 31st.
On November 27, 1999 Joe will retire from ordained ministry after serving 36 years in the Presbyterian Church. He credits the congregation at Sherwood Presbyterian Church, Columbus, Georgia as being an important part of his journey in the ministry and is thankful for the privilege of being a part of their journey in faith.
The call to ordained ministry came to Joe in February 1955. I was a freshman at Georgia Tech struggling to find some answer to what I should do with my life, Joe says. The call did not come with bright clarity indicating what he should do or where he was to go. But Joe did feel strongly that the Lord had a hold on his life and that he should pursue preparation for the ministry. The Rev. Norman Shands, pastor of West End Baptist Church in Atlanta, provided a positive influence that encouraged me to seek ordained ministry. So, like Abraham, I left Georgia Tech and enrolled at King College in Bristol, Tennessee. At the time Joe still had no idea where God was leading him.
The care and support of congregations has been a very important part of my journey, Joe continues. Every place of ministry provided a rich experience of getting to know some wonderful people. My heart warms with the memories of caring and supportive people. He says the prayers, care, and support he received from each congregation provided him a strong source of encouragement and growth, and likens the relationship to that of a partnership, citing the example of the Apostle Paul to the congregation at Philippi. Every time I think of you, I thank God. You have a special place in my heart. So it is only natural for me to feel the way I do. All of you have helped in the work God has given me. (Philippians 1:3-7)
Looking back at the congregations he has served, Joe says, My ministry is much like a quilt woven with the threads of Gods love, each patch representing experiences doing the Lords work. Joe goes on to list the memories woven into each patch of of his quilt.
Sherwood Presbyterian Church
The Sherwood patch is the place I call home. Sherwood introduced me to the Lord, nurtured me in faith, confirmed me, and provided support through all the years of my ministry. I remember the fun of Sunday School picnics, youth events, learning how to sing in a choir, and serving as student pastor the summer of 1957. The congregation was so patient listening to those first sermons. I still remember the care packages at birthday time from the womens circle; full of cookies, maybe a fruitcake, and a greeting card during those years away at college. Sherwood was always generous with financial support through the scholarship fund.
Summer Intern: Robert Forbis: 1961 and 1962
First Presbyterian Church
The Moultrie patch is colored with the hues of summer heat and has a few mosquitoes on it. It was a wonderful church to begin translating seminary learning into the life of a congregation. Dr. Forbis was an excellent teacher and role model for me to understand how to be a pastor. I recall the youth trips to Wakullah Springs and Savannah Beach, the comfortable theater seats for worshipers, and the Sunday when the ballast broke on the organ and it died suddenly in the midst of a hymn. The singing of the congregation followed the declining sound of the organ. I will never forget opening a greeting from the Men of the Church that said they would be sending a support check each month I was in seminary. Moultrie provided the community of faith for my second sons baptism.
Student Supply: 1961-1962
Clinchfield Presbyterian Church
The next patch in the quilt shows the road between seminary and a little town in central Georgia a bit south of Macon. Clinchfield Presbyterian Church is the congregation I supplied on Sundays during the seminary year. It was a wonderful group of Gods people . They were always caring and supportive of the family. I remember the visitation we did together to reach out to the unchurched people in the community. The men went out two-by-two while the women stayed together and prayed for us.
First church as ordained minister: June 1963-August 1965
Landrum Presbyterian Church
Landrum, South Carolina
Landrum, that beautiful community nestled in the Thermal Belt, graciously called me following graduation from seminary. It is there that I began ordained ministry. We worshipped in the fellowship hall. When we went to Presbytery looking for financial assistance to build the sanctuary, there was doubt the church would survive. However, I knew it would continue providing ministry because the congregation had the desire and faith to persevere. Now Landrum has its sanctuary and continues as a church. I remember the pounding at Thanksgiving time where the congregation generously provided food for the family.
Minister to Students: August 1965-August 1967
North Avenue Presbyterian Church
North Avenue Presbyterian Church, Atlanta, Georgia, where I served as Minister to Students, provided additional training in ministry under Dr. Broyles. This part of the quilt has scenes of many students from around the world joining hands in international fellowship. Of particular joy to me was the ministry initiated with International Students--International Fellowship, International Dinners at Mission time in February and at Christmas, Christmas International House, and the beginnings of Villa International House. These experiences broadened my appreciation of the greatness of God as well as the rich diversity of Gods children. I also recall the rare experience of transporting goats and sheep up the elevator to the gym for the Christmas pageant.
Assistant Minister: Ed Gammon: September 1967-August 1968
Interim Minister: September 1968-December 1970
Fairlington Presbyterian Church
There are two sections to the Fairlington patch. The first one depicts the educational work I was called to do as Assistant Minister to Rev. Ed Gammon. There is a scene of young children gathered together in the Day Care Center, the first grade class, and the monthly parent meetings. The second patch reflects the 18-month interim period after Dr. Gammon left and I served as pastor. A particular scene is the monthly gathering of the birthday bunch, where I enjoyed getting to know some wonderful friends. This patch also has the scene of the outdoor pageant at Christmas. I will never forget the time when the animals were released one night. Hardin and Weaver announced on the radio the next morning for people to help Dr. Gammon find his ass that got loose in the Fairlington area.
Associate Minister: Paul Eckel
Education & Youth Ministries: January 1970-December 1974
Grace Presbyterian Church
Grace Presbyterian Church, Springfield, Virginia, provided five years of rich and varied experiences as Associate Minister with Paul Eckel. This patch shows Christmas colors because I have warm, vivid memories of the Christmas Eve worship services, the beautiful decorations, the choral music, and singing The First Noel at the close of the service. I recall the time Paul and I did a drama for Christmas Eve. He was the innkeeper, and I was Luke the historian, showing up to do an interview to see what had occurred that first night when Jesus was born. The Grace congregation was creative and open which provided for rich expressions of worship in contemporary ways. A grandmother clock still reminds me of their love and care.
Pastor: January 1975-December 1976
Chesterbrook Presbyterian Church
Falls Church, Virginia
Chesterbrook also has two parts to the patch. The first reflects assisting a congregation grieve over the loss of their beloved pastor, Dick Le Forge. I also recall the Dinner Theater we did that raised money for missions. The second patch is dark in color, for it represents the dissolution of my marriage with Jan. This was the lowest point in my ministry. In fact, I thought it was over. How could a broken person provide ministry to others when he needed it so much himself? I resigned this call with a heavy heart over not being able to provide further ministry for the congregation, and took a leave of absence. For the next two years I worked as a doorkeeper with the U. S. Senate.
Interim Minister: September 1977-August 1978
District Heights Presbyterian Church
District Heights, Maryland
The District Heights patch displays the power of Gods grace that brought reconciliation to my life and provided a fresh start in the ministry. I served as Interim Minister while the congregation looked for a pastor. The first Sunday of Advent, 1977, I was in the church study preparing for the worship service, reflecting upon the meaning of communion and the call for repentance. Looking at a communion cup on the desk, I suddenly felt a strong sense of Gods presence that both warmed and supported me. The message of repentance and the cup of communion came together and spoke to me of Gods grace. I had a strong sense of God saying to me, Joe, you have made a mistake. You are a broken person, but I still have ministry for you to perform for me. My grace is stronger than your weakness. Trust me! My hands shook as I picked up that communion cup and tearfully renewed my life to serve my Lord. This patch has a teapot on it. I had met Karen Soli, a seminary student preparing for the Lutheran ministry, and the congregation of District Heights gave us the teapot as a wedding gift. There were strings hanging from the top with bits of paper on which were written the various gifts of the Spirit. In the teapot, at the other end of the strings, rolled up money was attached. The teapot still sits proudly in our home.
Pastor: September 1978-August 1984
Congregation of the Good Shepherd
Pastor: September 1978-August 1984
Community Presbyterian Church
The scenery changes with the next patches. After our marriage in July 1978, Karen and I traveled to Northern Minnesota where I served as pastor of two wonderful congregations in Keewatin and Calumet. Keewatins patch reflects the joining together of Lutherans and Presbyterians into one congregation, cutting wood for the fireplace, and the Sunshine Kids. Calumets patch shows visiting in the community, serendipity Bible studies, women learning to meditate, and the choir with only one man singing. There are scenes on both of these patches of potluck dinners, celebrating 20 years of ordination and the beautiful scenery of the Iron Range. It was here I was introduced to Sorrel boots, heavy winter clothing, skis, and fishing on frozen lakes.
Pastor: September 1984-May 1987
Trinity Presbyterian Church
St. Cloud, Minnesota
The Trinity patch portrays a young, struggling congregation trying to become established as a church. This was a new church development that had experienced divisive practices with their organizing pastor and needed to regroup. I still remember the New Years Eve reconciliation service we had in the chapel of First Presbyterian Church. This patch shows places of worship in schools and in a church building once used by the Mormons. I recall the baptism, done by immersion, that we celebrated in the baptismal pool built into the basement floor.
Pastor: June 1987-December 1992
First Presbyterian Church
Osakis provided the next stopping place for ministry. This patch has many scenes of fruitful ministry. One scene shows a wonderful choir that provided both music and fellowship. I learned many funny jokes. Then there is the scene of caroling at Christmas to the nursing homes and shut-ins. Following walking through cold winter weather, sometimes snowing, we enjoyed hot chili at the church. I introduced the group to my killer chili. There are many scenes with the Ice Breaker Group, the Seder meals, and the Grief Support Group.
Pastor: February 1993-November 27, 1999
First Presbyterian Church
The final place for ministry has been Hibbing. Once more the scenery is the woods and lakes of Northern Minnesota. First Presbyterian was once a lively congregation of 900 people. With declining jobs in the iron mining industry, the church membership dropped to 400. This patch reflects the struggles of adjustment from a large church to becoming a smaller church. The financial burden of providing multiple staff needed to be replaced with volunteers. There are many happy fellowship scenes of worship in the past, Christmas decorating parties, funny gift exchanges at undecorating parties in January, a valentine dance, and that beautiful sanctuary all decorated for Christmas.
In each of these places of ministry there were youth to be confirmed, children to be educated and cared for, babies to be baptized, couples to marry, troubled minds and broken hearts to counsel and support, and families to console through the painful experience of death. Ministry has been a rich and varied experience of representing the realities of Gods presence and power to the many expressions of human life, and supporting one another in our faith journeys. I feel surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses from Columbus, Georgia to Hibbing, Minnesota and filled with joy at the memory of my association with each congregation.
As Joe looks forward to retirement, relishing the memories of each church he has served, we wish him Godspeed on his new journey in faith. His relocation to South Dakota keeps him in the cold country, but also puts him closer to his first grandchild. The rest of his family is still spread out across the fifty states. Jan, mother of Joey, Steven, and Eric, currently lives in Arlington, Virginia.
Joey currently resides in Arlington, Virginia. He is a talented pianist, a member of Pershings Own Army Band, teacher at American University, and musician with Fairfax Choral Arts Society. He earned his doctorate from Catholic University.
Steven resides in LaHaina, Maui, Hawaii where he works and enjoys golf and surfing. Hes also an accomplished musician turning his talents to guitar as well as being a gifted artist.
Eric and his wife and two children currently reside in Omaha, Nebraska where he is a Dispatcher for Union Pacific Railroad. He graduated from Macalester College with a degree in geology and worked for a time as a geologist doing soil testing across the country.
Karen, wife and mother of two daughters, Berit and Louisa, has accepted the call from Augustana and is currently busy planning and packing for relocation.
Berit is a talented 19-year-old attending Minneapolis College of Art and Design in Minneapolis. She is also a gifted pianist and writer.
Louisa was Joes fiftieth birthday present. Shes twelve and also has a talent for music, her instruments of choice being flute and piano. She recently performed her own recital. Gymnastics is a big part of Louisas life. She has achieved a level five status. Talk about limber!
Im sure Joes last pulpit will be crowded with memories of all the congregations he has served; happy memories probably tinged with a hint of sadness that such a rewarding career is coming to an end. And yet he is convinced that God has prepared a place for him, Karen, and Louisa in South Dakota and looks forward to continued service and fruitful lives.