A little over a year ago, Joel and I decided that after 18 years it was time to retire as co-pastors of The First Church in Belfast, UCC. As many of you know, retirement is not an easy decision when your work has not only been a joy but feels like a large part of your identity. The covenanted relationship between pastor and congregation has been likened to a marriage. We and the people of the church have been through a lot together, have shaped each other in many ways, and now will give each other one final gift — a blessing into the future.

We have already learned a lot in this season of pre-retirement, which is coinciding with the liturgical season of Advent. Advent is a time of looking toward the future for the ways God is breaking into the world, as well as watching for signs of incarnation, the sacred becoming flesh, in and around us right now. For those unfamiliar with the liturgical year, it is a kind of spiritual practice based in the life of Jesus that helps us to live in space and time in a way countercultural to what our chaotic and controlling society offers.

Our culture says “Hurry up! Don’t miss out!” Advent tells us to “Wait! Watch for a while!” The ubiquitous social media screams for us to “Shop! Find the perfect gift.” Advent advises to “Reflect on the treasure within.” When the culture says “You can do it all!” Advent counters “God has done and is doing it already.” All we need to do is be attentive to the signs.

People ask us what we will be doing during retirement. Advent has encouraged us to ask a different question — who will we be? How will God’s Spirit be incarnated, take flesh, in our lives in this chapter? Instead of running out to fill the empty hours and spaces, I plan to sink into silence and light candles of hope, peace, joy, and love, as well as candles of waiting, healing, longing, and finding.

I know my dear Joel will be ensconced at his pottery wheel, following the movement of the Spirit as he gives shape and body to the earthen clay. We would like our home to be a place of spiritual nurturance, creativity, and love that will find ways to spill out into the world in new and different ways. At this moment, we will leave the “how” to higher, deeper, and wiser powers.

Ultimately, we are taking on retirement as a spiritual practice that encourages us to let go of any notions of who we think we are, and prepare for the transformation to come. It will be work on a different plane, and we pray we will be ready for it.

The First Church congregation will be doing something similar during this time, discerning who they want to be in a world that looks distinctly different than it did only 18 years ago. No doubt, there will be grief and there will be joy, two constant partners in transformation. We will celebrate the new life to come in the New Year.

The Rev. Dr. Kate Winters is co-pastor of The First Church in Belfast, United Church of Christ.