Saturday, November 18, 2023
Dear Fourth Church Congregation,
I write today letting you know that I will be retiring from the Gospel Ministry on January 15, 2024, and leaving Fourth Presbyterian Church as your Senior Associate Pastor at that time. My last Sunday, with the consent of the Personnel Council and with the blessing of the Reverend Tom Are Jr., will be January 14, 2024.
Throughout the last six years of ministry together here at Fourth Church we have navigated some of the most challenging social, political, theological, and personal days, at least of my lifetime. The enormous toll of the pandemic on the fabric of our life of faith; our outrage at the murder of George Floyd and the persistent bite of racism; the war in Ukraine and now the Middle East; so many lives lost through gun violence in our city, including some of our own Chicago Lights youth and employees; and mass murders in malls, synagogues, churches, and clubs impact every one of our lives. I bring this into this letter of resignation because these have been the years that our ministry has connected. These have been the years that our life together has asked us to shelter in place and also draw closer (albeit masked at moments) to one another and to God.
I came to Fourth Church as a novice parish pastor. I was a college and university chaplain for the bulk of my career. You have been patient with me. Shannon Kershner taught me so much about parish ministry! (We often laughed at the fact that I was almost twenty years her elder and she was the mentor to this newbie Senior Associate.) I do believe God winked and nodded a lot through these past years. You have taught me, guided me, listened to my words, and accompanied me in our common ministry with grace and fortitude.
I am overcome with gratitude for you, Fourth Church congregation, and for the staff colleagues I have had the privilege of walking beside over these years. I am a deep believer in the expression “you never know.” I have said it often in preaching, in my devotions, in my teaching, in the prayers I have prayed with you. And the most powerful subtext of that phrase “you never know” is that you never, ever know when God’s Spirit will awaken in your life and lead you to places you never imagined. You never, ever know when the light of God’s joy will dance in the steps of a child. You never, ever know when the holy ruckus of little ones being baptized will remind us that this life of faith cannot be controlled, only received with deep gratitude and deeper love. And you never, ever know when the power of Jesus, the Christ, will meet you in moments of deep worry, fear, and stinging hurt and also shower you with love so amazing, so divine that you are simply stunned by beauty and peace.
As a person who prays a lot, mostly because I just like to talk to God, I will contin-ue to pray for your future, Fourth Church and Chicago Lights. I will pray for abundant blessings, for your courageous and far-reaching justice-making, for great moments of encounter with the Holy in worship, adult education, the work of the Nominating Committee, Morning Prayer, and venturing out. And I am lifting a prayer of deep gratitude this day for all we have been and all that is yet to come.
Tom Forster-Smith and I will be making our home in Massachusetts but will likely travel through these parts on a road trip I want to make down Route 66. So if you see two retirees and a little goldendoodle in a white Subaru trying to find the launch of that route by the Art Institute (I guess there is a sign), please wave!
We are very blessed by you and are very, very thankful to God, truly.
Peace and gratitude,
Senior Associate Pastor
November 18, 2023
Dear Fourth Church Family,
While I have only been with you a few weeks, I have been here long enough to have seen and benefited from the many contributions Lucy Forster-Smith has made to Fourth Church over these six years.
Her leadership, wisdom, and guiding presence; her shepherding of adult education, leadership development, and clergy partnerships; indeed her commitment to this congregation and to the long-range planning process have been a gift. Invaluable too has been her taking up additional leadership responsibilities, including as Acting Head of Staff, during Shannon Kershner’s sabbatical and again in this recent season of transition. Her presence has shaped who we are and will be going forward, and for that we are grateful.
We will have an opportunity to express that gratitude to Lucy during a special Coffee Hour on her final Sunday with us, on January 14. I hope you will be with us then to celebrate our time with Lucy and to wish her and Tom Forster-Smith blessing upon blessing in this new chapter for them.
Also following the 11:00 service on January 14, we will gather for a congregational meeting, at which we will act to request that the pastoral relationship between Fourth Church and Lucy be dissolved. As you will know from pastors retiring from Fourth Church in the past or taking calls elsewhere, part of this separation means that after January 15 Lucy will not be available to lead worship services at Fourth Church, including weddings and memorial services. We will also honor her retirement by not calling on her to speak to or be involved in the good work that we will continue doing.
I will be working with the Associate Pastors and with the Personnel Council to ensure that the work that Lucy has led among us will continue to thrive. Bigger picture, we will also be using this season — as is Fourth Church practice whenever a position opens — to thoughtfully review the job description and our current organizational needs as we look to future staffing.
As all of that unfolds, we will keep you posted. In the meantime, please join me in a big thank-you to Lucy.
Tom Are Jr.