I’m sitting before a white screen pondering the word and theme to build this blog around. Here it is. Transition /tranˈziSH(ə)n/ – “a process or period of changing from one condition or state of being to another.” Sunday marks one of those for our church. And for our dear friends Phil and Carol Lilly.
In a real sense, that word has been a metaphor for much of his life and his decade of ministry among us. Few people I know have done more things over the years. Gymnast, police officer, civil servant, crisis manager, homeland security chief, seminarian, and minister dot the list. He has moved fairly close to seamlessly between them all as he transitioned from role to role, home to home, and charge to charge. I’m not sure what his shortest stop along the way was, but I am grateful for the providence that made his longest one with us. For ten years he has looked at the landscape of FBC St. Pete and simply asked: “What can I do to help most right now?” And with a servant’s heart, he set out to do whatever that was at the moment.
He told me once that he had sensed for some time that he was called to lead a church through a season of transition. He was and is, after all, quite adept at it. In the many months preceding my arrival, he did just that. He did his best to steady a ship, serve a people, and lead a staff, preparing the way for a new leader to come. And when that leader arrived, I found myself well served by one who knew that the transition was only starting. We are slowly but steadily changing from one condition and way of being to another, with much help by the efforts and example of the man we lovingly call “Dr. Phil.” We cannot say thank you enough.
But Sunday we will try. And we will honor and affirm the Lillys as they enter as close to a retirement as Phil knows how. The good news is that we get to continue being blessed by their place within our church and community, just in a new condition and state of being. He will join a number of other former ministers among us whose hearts and bones and voices carry on, just not by way of vocation. And Carol will get a lot more of Phil’s focus and presence, sharing him a lot less than she had to all these years. Yet another new condition and state of being. Good for them, they are good at transitions. And because of them, we are too.