When we received the beautiful letter that Dale penned to the congregation a couple weeks ago, there is no doubt that our joint response was one of mixed emotions. Since the reading of that letter, I have heard it often said, “We are going to really miss Dale,” and I have also heard it said, “but no one deserves to retire more than Dale.” We feel so many things all at once, giving thanks for what Dale has meant to each of us, celebrating a rich and long-tenured ministry, and standing with Dale during a momentous occasion in his life.[pullquote_right width=”53%”]One could use the Dale Peterson years as an instruction manual for thriving in the ministry.[/pullquote_right]
As we look back at the “Dale Peterson Era,” as the last chapter of the second edition of The Auburn First Baptist Church 1838-2013 is entitled, we will stumble and struggle to put everything into words. My grandfather, Dr. Ches Smith, who was the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Tifton, Georgia, for thirty years was once asked to speak at a Baptist meeting on Surviving in the Ministry, discussing the challenges of such work and offering instruction on how to survive a long tenure. When my grandfather stood up to the podium, he first said, “I was asked to talk about Surviving in the Ministry, but I am not sure why I was not asked to talk about Thriving in the Ministry.” After some laughter, he talked about what it means to thrive in serving a congregation.
One could use the Dale Peterson years as an instruction manual for thriving in the ministry. Dale has led in song, while also sitting by hospital beds. He has composed beautiful music, but he has also listened when people were hurting. He has created reverence in worship, while also standing on the holy ground of people’s lives, bearing grace. Dale has cherished the sounds of laughter and community as much as he has treasured the sounds of music. He has walked with this church for over forty years through significant transitions.
Dale understands the broad meaning of ministerial leadership, which at its center for Dale is music ministry, but it also reaches out from that center through the entire congregation. He has thrived because of his heart for the church, for which we will be forever grateful. In the months to come, we will have opportunities to express all of the different emotions we have felt. We will say “thank you,” “we will miss you,” and “we are excited for you,” and perhaps even tell some stories. Ministry is always found in the stories, so if you think of any great stories, jot them down on a napkin or sheet of paper. Tell them to Dale, and tell them to one another. It is one of the best ways we celebrate and say, “Thanks be to God.”