“So when did you announce your retirement?” I keep getting asked. The answer is: “The day I took this job five years ago.”
Once we determined that this was of the Lord, I said to the search committee chairman, Dr. Gail DeBord, “I’ll give you three years.” He said, “Make it five.” And that became the plan.
So, I resigned the day I moved into this office. Gave a five-year notice, you might say. It was most definitely of the Lord. Had I left after three years, we were still in crisis mode here, recovering from the effects of Hurricane Katrina, and the timing would have been terrible.
Now, we’re ready. We’ve done a 12-month re-organizational study of the association under the leadership of seminary Professor Reggie Ogea, and are putting into place an entirely different plan of operation for the Baptist Association of Greater New Orleans.
Ten years ago, Freddie Arnold left the Kingsville Baptist Church of Pineville, LA, where he had been minister of education for 17 years, to become Church Planting Strategist for the Baptist churches of metro New Orleans. That was another God-thing, if there has ever been one.
Monday night, at the Spring meeting of this association and the official retirement send-offs for both Freddie and me, I told the representatives of our churches, “No one could ever have had a finer colleague than Freddie. He has been everything we have needed for this critical time in the life of our churches.”
Freddie is multi-talented. I told them, “If you need a sermon, he can preach it. If you need a hymn, he can lead it. If you need a house, he can build it. If your car is in need of repair, he can fix it. And this morning, we found another of his skills. In his early morning walks alongside Lake Pontchartrain, he had picked dewberries, and today, he brought in a cobbler he made with the berries he had picked. Apparently, there is nothing this man cannot do.”
Unless it’s draw cartoons. (But there’s not a lot of call for that!)
Freddie is also a “white cap,” the equivalent of a general in SBC Disaster Relief work.
At the end of May when his retirement becomes official, Freddie will go to work part-time for the Eastern Louisiana Baptist Association where David Brown is the DOM. For the first time since Katrina flooded his home, Freddie will be able to live at home and drive into work each morning the way everyone else does. (He built a new house on his family farmland in Walker, Louisiana.) He will be a church planter for that association. They’re getting a good one, and a bargain, too. So far, no one has ever been able to tell Freddie to quit working and go home. David Brown is more than likely getting a full-time employee for a half-time salary!
“So, what did the association do for you and Freddie on your retirement?”
They honored us, hugged us, blessed us, and made us feel so special. They thanked us and then listened as we thanked them. They gave us each a plaque and a check. Administrative Chairman Cornelius Tilton said, “More will be coming. The churches have been sending love offerings, and this is what we have so far.” It was most generous.
And they fed us.
The Monday night service was followed by a reception in the fellowship hall of New Orleans’ First Baptist Church. I said to Carolyn Tilton, “Only in New Orleans would a reception feature gumbo and red-beans-and-rice!” She said, “And isn’t it great!” Yes, indeed.
God’s people have been so gracious to me. The car I’ve been driving — a 2005 Camry with nearly 140,000 miles on it — was bought with the going-away love-gift from the First Baptist Church of Kenner when I left 5 years ago. And now, with the check from Monday night, I am well on the way to replacing it with another Camry. (Per my wife’s instructions; she is nothing if not loyal.)
Since their constituency is so diverse and spread out, directors of missions are often at a loss on how to express appreciation to everyone they are indebted to. That is particularly true of me, but even moreso because of all the help God’s people throughout this land sent our way in the aftermath of 2005’s hurricane. So, I wrote what ended up being a three-page letter to the pastors and church leaders, which we printed in Monday night’s handout. Here is one crucial paragraph…and then I’ll tell you who I left out!
“Working alongside Freddie Arnold, our office staff — Lynn Gehrmann, Ninfa Rodriguez, and until 2006, Meredith Johnson — and David Rhymes has been a complete joy. They have been wonderful friends and co-workers in every way. Likewise, our mission center directors and staffs, our campus ministries, our NOAH team and the vast network of disaster relief and rebuild workers, Global Maritime, Camp Living Waters, Dr. Hankins and team at the Louisiana Baptist Convention, and Dr. Geoff Hammond and the NAMB team — you have made this the sweetest job on the planet, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
I typed that a few days ago and thought, “Okay, who am I leaving out?” (Pastors know, you start naming individuals and you always leave someone out.)
Monday night, glancing around the huge auditorium, I spotted Dr. and Mrs. Chuck Kelley (Rhonda has her doctorate too, so that ought to say Dr. and Dr. Kelley!) from our New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary next to our mutual friend Larry Black who had driven down from Jackson. I thought, “I forgot the seminary! How could I forget them!”
Every church in this association is indebted to this seminary. Many of our churches were begun by students or professors over the 92 year history of NOBTS. Today, a large number of our churches are pastored and staffed by members of that esteemed family. I’ve mentioned the leadership given our association recently by Professor Reggie Ogea. The Mission Lab works with our churches and neighborhoods in bringing teams of mission volunteers from around the country to minister here. Ongoing conferences on church-growth and discipleship provide powerful opportunities for our leaders to stay fresh and strong.
Thank you, Dr. Kelley and the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.
No doubt I’m forgetting someone else important. (I apologize in advance!)
“Will you continue the blog after retiring?”
Of course. It’s like breathing, impossible to quit.
And one more thing…
Several editors are writing obituaries—oops, excuse me, they’re writing articles — about my retirement. Gary Myers of “Vision,” the NOBTS alumni mag, and Jennifer Rash, managing editor of the Alabama Baptist, have sent advance copies of what they have written. I’m overwhelmed, and have pledged to stand up for them at the Judgment in case they have to account for these overblown accolades.
As they come out, Marty (my son and webmaster for this blog) will post a link here for those who care to read them.
In 1984, the First Baptist Church of Columbus, Mississippi, was giving us a tenth-anniversary celebration of our pastorate. As various individuals rose in tribute, Dr. Earl Kelly, the Executive-Director for our state convention, walked to the pulpit for the morning message. He said, “Joe, after all these eulogies, it does look like you could have done the honorable thing and died!”
I’m still laughing at that. It’s precisely how I feel today.
But never fear, Mom. I still have lots of work to do. And miles to go before I sleep.