As I write up my daily blog on this cool, autumn night, I must say that tonight not only marks the end of my day but the end of an era here in Marin County, California. Having just returned from the Tiburon Corinthian Yacht Club where well over one-hundred people showed up to honor, support, and congratulate Pastor Douglas Huneke on his retirement from Westminster Presbyterian Church, I can sum up what makes Doug stand out from many other pastors, as was told to me from another congregation member tonight: Doug can greet you and connect to your soul within the first twelve seconds. He understands what each individual is going through, where they've been, and where they presently are. That's quite a qyality considering not every church pastor has that capability. And one shouldn't hold every single pastor to that high a standard as it's the exception, not the rule. Doug is that exception which is why so many people are at a loss. How do we continue on as a congregation, a county, a community, and so much more--with Doug's departure and retirement?
As someone just starting out in my own adult life beginning my journey, Doug is a model to try and follow while holding onto my own individuality. I can't help but think how Doug wasn't just about Westminster. He was about world religions and the Jewish faith. In the backyard of my own mind, Pastor Doug was someone I could go into when a personal crisis hit on more than one occasion. He was the one staff person at Westminster I felt I could cry to (not that I ever did) if things got really bad for me. And if I had only known Doug for two and-a-half years since I became a member of WPC, I can't even begin to imagine how some of my other fellow church members are feeling tonight and this upcoming weekend. Members that have known Doug for between twenty and thirty years, some for much longer. Doug's ability to wear many different hats is a quality I am going to miss about him that not one single other pastor could easily embrace. That's why we love him so much. I can't even imagine what some of the other staff like Pastor Barbara are going through. They are happy for his retirement of course, but how well are they internally taking the transition? I know it's difficult for me, so it has to be quite an adjustment for them.
Perhaps the amazing part of tonight's retirement dinner celebration came at a time when three representatives from the Jewish faith got up to the podium to express their sincere gratitude towards Doug. Westminster has had such an incredible partnership with Kol Shofar. They treated Doug like another Rabbi and he was as equally loving to them as I can imagine he has been to Westminster. Chills started running down my back as the three members presented Doug and his wife Nancy with an all-expenses paid trip to Israel. I wanted to cry in joy at that moment that all of us at the Corinthian stood up and clapped. I felt strongly in unanimous support of Doug going to the promise land where he was an activist and an advocate for the Israelies for so many tireless years. It was an overwhelming joy as I am sure it was for Doug. It was the highlight of the entire evening for me because there was something so deep and richly symbolic about Doug getting to come full circle in his religious profession for all the work he had done.
This coming Sunday marks the final sermon Douglas K. Huneke will give at the pulpit of Westminster Presbyterian Church. I hope it doesn't emotionally take me by surprise, as I have never felt closer to a pastor than I do at this moment. The ushers need to make sure there's a box of kleenex at every row. Seriously! This could be a part of the Transition Committee's budget. It will be a daylong, final emotional service and celebration that cannot be missed or taken lightly.
Doug is leaving us. Leaving us for good. But he will be sorely missed, cherished, and remembered. I hope to meet with him one last time for coffee which will probably be after Sunday. It is hard for all of us and for me to say goodbye to a pastor and a person who has remained a male father figure to me, little does he know. May his retirement be blessed and may he know the community of thousands he is leaving behind who love him.
God bless you Doug!