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A retired PC(USA) minister lives into the call to let go


A new episode of ‘Everyday God-talk’ features pastor and theologian Cynthia Jarvis

June 7, 2023

The Rev. Cynthia Jarvis (Photo courtesy of The Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill)

“The way I’ve always done ministry is that I love my people,” said the Rev. Cynthia Jarvis, a retired pastor in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), in a recent episode of “Everyday God-talk.” Jarvis spoke to the Rev. Dr. So Jung Kim, associate for Theology in the Office of Theology and Worship, in three 10-minute conversations organized around the themes of how Jarvis’ soul, heart and mind are responding to the call to retire.

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 “The new season of Everyday God-talk shares the stories of those who are resting and growing — pastors and teachers in between calls, on sabbatical and retired,” said Kim. Her interviews with Jarvis revolved around the spiritual lessons of learning to let go and reimagining one’s relationships and discipleship when one is no longer the pastor of a community.

Jarvis’s 45 years in ministry included meaningful relationships with students at the College of Wooster and McCormick Theological Seminary and with congregants at Nassau Presbyterian Church in Princeton, New Jersey and The Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill in Philadelphia. The last two pastorates lasted 15 and 23 years. After a career marked by long pastorates, Jarvis noted that letting go of relationships has been the hardest thing about transitions throughout her ministry, but especially in retirement.

“I was in their homes,” reminisced Jarvis as she painted a picture of the intimacy a minister gives up when a call is dissolved. “Think of all the occasions over the years where you are invited into people’s homes during the times when they are the most vulnerable.”

The purpose of the “Everyday God-talk” videos are to encourage theological reflection in our daily lives, and so Jarvis translated what ministry meant for her in terms of her theology. “For me, relationships are what ministry is all about. The relationship with God then brings us into relationship with others, so I knew it was going to be hard (to retire),” said Jarvis.

Jarvis spoke candidly about the gifts and challenges of being a single woman in ministry. She also shared how the pandemic and retirement pushed her to embrace new rituals of self-care. Her retirement coincided with the start of the pandemic, forcing her to learn to physically let go of her congregation and to inhabit her life of faith in new ways. In 2020, she left Philadelphia for an extended stay at her summer house in Maine during quarantine.

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 “I worked 24/7 when I was in ministry and never took a day off (except in June when I went to my house in Maine),” said Jarvis. “When I retired, I’d never inhabited my home, so I took time to nest. … Walking with my dog in Maine was good because I had done no exercise when I was in ministry.” Jarvis also embraced cooking “feasts for one,” as she described them. “I went back to cooking. I researched recipes, took pictures and put it on Facebook. All of that I would not have done had it not been for the pandemic.”

Jarvis noted that the isolation of quarantining in Maine forced her to put aside the thinking and doing muscles of the faith that she’d developed as a minister and to cultivate a contemplative side. “I’m not a contemplative type,” she said as she described how the quietude of single, pandemic life required her to look for God in the sunrise and the moonrise on the water. The relationships with others she’d come to expect through God began to come through the reliable rhythms of nature.

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 Now that she is three years into retirement, Jarvis shared examples of how she has reimagined her life in ministry as a person in the pew. She is now a cheerleader for other ministers, an advocate for social justice ministries and a woman fully inhabiting her home and her intimate relationships.

Jarvis closed her final reflections by quoting poet Mary Oliver: “To live in this world, you must be able to do three things: to love what is mortal, to hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it, and when the time comes to let it go, to let it go.”

Beth Waltemath, Communications Strategist, Presbyterian Mission Agency

Today’s Focus: ‘Everyday God-talk’ podcast

Let us join in prayer for:

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Simon Doong, Mission Associate, Presbyterian Peacemaking Program, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Leo Dorsey, Web Developer/Designer, Communications Ministry, Presbyterian Mission Agency

Let us pray

Gathering God, remind us of your abundance. Move us to be people willing to share what you have given us rather than people who hoard it as if it were something never to be replenished — for your gifts never run out. In the name of our Lord Jesus, the abundant one. Amen.

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