What to Expect When You’re Expecting to Retire

By Mike Givler, Communications Coordinator for the Synod of the Trinity

For many, the vision of retirement includes a road map, a bag of golf clubs, or a big, comfy recliner. And, in some cases, all three. It’s the “good life,” a time most people look fondly toward as they shed their office cubicle and structured schedule for scenic destinations and lack of time constraints.

However, the transition from a 9-to-5 job to a lifestyle that has no clock isn’t always easy. Retirement can present its own bucket of problems, from financial planning to figuring out what to do with all of that extra time that looms ahead in each day.

It was not an easy transition for Bill Carr. He’d had three jobs going at once and had a difficult time filling that void once everything stopped. Carr had served on the staff of a church and had been a chaplain in the Army reserves in Atlanta while also running a marriage and family therapy practice in his hometown of Gainesville, Georgia.

“It was more about the way I’ve lived my life,” says Carr, explaining his struggles as he entered retirement. “I was an admitted workaholic. For me, the idea of retiring was foreign to me. I just could not imagine what it would be like.”

Retirement didn’t last long, as Carr took another job as a chaplain at a VA hospital 45 minutes away.

However, as Carr reached his 60s, some health issues arose. While they didn’t immediately make him slow down, they did eventually cause him to find a different occupation that was less stressful on his physical and emotional well-being.

“It really was an opportunity for me to take a good, hard look at everything I was doing and make an adjustment. It was a major shift from doing professional work to trying to do it at a difference pace,” he says. “Admittedly it was difficult for a while because I went back to work several times. I guess you could say I failed at retirement.”

Carr had always enjoyed farming and had friends who farmed. One day, he found himself at an auction and decided to buy a couple of pregnant cows with babies by their sides. The cows stayed with friends until he purchased several acres of land and turned his attention to clearing pastureland, planting grass, and raising cattle.

“I made the transition fairly well,” Carr says. “It really has proved to be good, in that it gives me a chance to be outdoors enjoying God’s creation. Instead of dealing with people, I am dealing with big, beautiful animals that need a little shepherding.”

“He has learned to relax,” says Jan Carr, Bill’s wife. “He continues to be active as he’s gotten into this hobby.”

Finding perspective and balance


Finding balance is as important in retirement as it is earlier in life. John and Ruth Hicks suggest finding time for fun, learning, and even a little bit of work. (Photo courtesy of John and Ruth Hicks)

Slowing down hasn’t been a problem for John and Ruth Hicks. They are enjoying retirement after many years of touring the country because of their occupations. John was involved with Presbyterian camps and conference centers around the country, making stops in places like Iowa, Seattle, Florida, and Georgia. Meanwhile, Ruth was a presbytery associate executive in Florida and Georgia before becoming a stated clerk after retirement in Boise, where they now reside.

John decided to retire at age 62, partly because he could and partly because he had lost both of his parents at a fairly young age, which convinced him to not take retirement for granted. John did toy with the idea of going back to work a little over a year after he walked away from the camping scene, but the couple decided it wouldn’t be the best move for them.

“I had never taken a sabbatical,” John says. “When I left Seattle, I started the very next day in Florida. Thirty-four years with no sabbatical is a long time with never a transition between positions.”

In his 34 years as a director he never had a fatality or a close-to-death incident at a camp.  That began to weigh on him.

“I said to myself, ‘What would I do if something like that happened? The Lord has blessed me for 34 years and I don’t want to risk it.’ That weighed heavily on me. That was a big part of my decision to retire early,” he says.

“From the beginning we saved and saved and saved in order to be able to retire early because we didn’t know what our longevity would look like,” adds Ruth, who suffers from arthritis. “We wanted to be able to play a little bit. But we also got quite bored quickly.”

The stated clerk position for the Presbytery of Boise became available two weeks after they moved to Idaho, so Ruth accepted that call. The two have also made an effort to volunteer.

“The trick is finding something that’s fulfilling,” Ruth says. “Being stated clerk for me was brand-new and it was fun and it got me into a whole different circle of people and colleagues.”

John continues to fall back on what he knows, being a consultant for camps, but has also served on other boards, pastoral search committees, and capital campaigns.

“Just when I’m at the point of ‘What am I going to do now,’ something else pops up,” John says. “The church has kept us busy.”

“I’ve always been of the mindset of not knowing what’s next, but a door opens and you walk through and you kind of say, ‘OK, God, what do you want me to do here?’” Ruth says.

John and Ruth have become retirement planning consultants for the Board of Pensions, offering advice by teaching classes for people who are heading into retirement.

“Everybody thinks of the financial part: Can I retire? When can I retire? When do I have enough money? But we help people think about their health,” Ruth says. “How is their health going to affect their retirement? What are they doing now that they should change in order to have a better retirement? How do you decide where to live? It’s fascinating helping people envision how retirement can be different.”

“What we’re really saying to people is: Don’t wait until you’re a month from retirement to plan for it,” John adds. “You’ve got to start working on it years ahead of time if you’re going to have a good retirement.”

“Start your plans now; they’re going to change, but it doesn’t surprise you,” Ruth suggests. “You’re ready with principles to say, ‘OK, this has happened; what are we going to do next?’ Planning ahead is really important. We really push for balance in retirement—play, learn, work, volunteer.”

Realistic planning and expectations

Two people who had no doubt about what they were going to do in retirement are Jan and Harris Schultz. Harris is a retired minister who served in Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee. He and Jan, who was a lay employee over the years during several of Harris’ stops, ended up with a house in Nashville, Tennessee, in retirement, but to say they lived there would not be accurate.

The couple has been traveling in their RV since they were married, and that hasn’t stopped in retirement. In fact, when the Schultzes realized they were spending nearly 40 weeks a year in their RV, they sold their Nashville home and decided to live in their RV. They travel the country, visiting their six sons and 10 grandchildren as well as looking up friends and sightseeing.

“Since Harris was an interim pastor, we moved about every two years. Moving around is in our blood,” Jan says. “It affords us the opportunity to go visit family and friends and see different parts of the country without the hang-up of having a house that we have to worry about what is happening at home while we’re gone.”

If they have a “home” location, it is Sun City, Arizona, where last year they spent seven months living in an RV resort.

“The sociologists tell us that the theory of continuity is a good theory, that people tend to do something along the lines of what they’ve been doing,” Harris says.

Harris and Jan, who are also retirement planning consultants for the Board of Pensions, will ask people what they plan to do in retirement. Many would-be retirees will say they want to travel, in part because that’s the “in thing” to say. But Harris warns against that if it’s something you’re not already doing.

“If they’re not traveling now, they’re probably not going to travel in retirement,” he says.

The Schultzes suggest that people going into retirement be prepared for what they want to do, where they want to live, and who they want to live with.

“You may think most of your retirement is about money, and while it is a significant factor, the more important consideration is the character and nature of your relationships,” Harris says. “A lot of people in retirement have something that they do that they get paid for.”

“You have to look at all aspects of retirement and what it’s going to be like,” Jan adds. “I think for working people and especially pastors, they just kind of stop. We have a saying in one of our seminars that ‘You are what you do. What are you when you don’t?’ For anybody, that’s kind of difficult. We’re defined by our career.

“This is the time that you do the things you didn’t have time to do. Take an art class, go play some tennis that you always wanted to play, read those books that you’ve been wanting to read. Whatever it is that your passion is, do it.”

Rat Race to Retirement

Discerning a New Call in Life

By Mike Givler

Have a plan. If you ask Wayne Yost the secret to a successful retirement, that’s his advice in a nutshell.

Yost, the stated clerk for the Synod of the Trinity and former executive presbyter at Kiskiminetas Presbytery in western Pennsylvania, runs his own coaching and consulting service.

Barb Lappen, a retired teacher and counselor, volunteers with the Broad Street Ministry Menders of Philadelphia. The group repairs clothing for people who are homeless or hungry. (Photo courtesy of the Board of Pensions of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.))

Barb Lappen, a retired teacher and counselor, volunteers with the Broad Street Ministry Menders of Philadelphia. The group repairs clothing for people who are homeless or hungry. (Photo courtesy of the Board of Pensions of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.))

“As a coach, my goal is to help people find within themselves where they want to go and discover the resources they have available to do that,” Yost says. “Coaching is different than consulting work. Consulting gathers facts and then tells you, ‘This is what you should do.’ Coaching is asking you to look deeper and reach higher.”

Yost says the first step is to ask the question: What do I want to do after retirement?

“I don’t think you’re going to want to hit ‘all ahead . . . stop,’” Yost says. “So what other areas of your life can you expand to find fulfillment and to use your time? You just don’t retire today and sit in the rocking chair tomorrow. I noticed a couple of generations ago people who worked in factories worked hard up until retirement. They come to ‘all ahead . . . stop,’ and within two or three years are dead. The ones who were able to live happier and longer lives had something else they invested themselves in after work.”

The key to success in retirement, Yost says, is the way a person approaches this next stage in their life.

“Retirement is a new call,” he says. “What is it that God is calling you to be and do in retirement? That gives particularity to it. It’s not coming to a sudden stop. It may be that you are called just to spend time with your grandkids. Or teach at the community college. Or umpire baseball games.”

Yost is quick to point out that pastors, too, need to be prepared for the many changes in their lives once they retire.

Changing community

Whether you work at a church or a tool and die shop, the workplace is a community. At work you probably have a title and ready-made social system. Yost says it’s different in retirement, especially for those who move. They enter a community as an unknown.

“You won’t have the network of people that you had, particularly if you move in retirement. When you move into a new community after retirement, you come in as Joe Shmoe,” Yost says. Pastors who have enjoyed a place of privilege in a community may feel this loss more acutely than others.

Changing identity

Retirees who move don’t enter a new community with any established bona fides when it comes to connections and positions. They have to learn who they are without the work trappings. On the other hand, a new community offers the opportunity to reinvent oneself in retirement.

Choosing to stay in the same place can mean working through identity changes within the group. This can be especially challenging for pastors who have invested a big portion of their lives in a congregation and community. They have to figure out how to unplug from being the pastor for the people and the church they served.

Issues arise when retired pastors are asked to do baptisms and weddings for the children and grandchildren of former congregation members. Yost says that is the job of the current pastor, not the retired pastor.

“The pitfalls occur when you can’t let go,” Yost says. “For instance, (pastors think) ‘I served this church for the last 15 years, I’ve invested my life for the last 15 years in this church, and I can’t be sure that the next pastor’s going to take it in the same direction.’”

Changing accommodations

Smaller incomes may mean smaller accommodations in retirement. Downsizing can be a challenge as retirees begin to shed the stuff of their lives.

If a pastor has lived in a manse for their call, retirement also means that they must now find a new living space. It can cause great financial and emotional stress on someone entering a new stage of life that is already filled with other great changes.

These life shifts can be anticipated through retirement planning seminars. Guided planning can provide valuable answers and eye-opening facts that will be instrumental in this stage of life, allowing for less stress and more time enjoying your golden years.

Creative_Commons-BYNCNDYou may freely reuse and distribute this article in its entirety for non-commercial purposes in any medium. Please include author attribution, photography credits, and a link to the original article. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDeratives 4.0 International License.

  • Subscribe to the PC(USA) News

  • Interested in receiving either of the PC(USA) newsletters in your inbox?