As a child, I can remember watching on TV the launching of the Gemini and later Apollo space rockets. Each launch captured the imaginations of everyone thinking about real live astronauts orbiting the Earth and later landing on the Moon. All the kids in my neighborhood drank Tang instant orange drink because that is what we were told the astronauts drank.

The three major television networks broadcast from Cape Canaveral, later to be called Cape Kennedy, every lift off. The television coverage was meticulous down to the last detail. There were endless checks and rechecks. All of the possible outcomes were openly discussed even possible death and disaster. At last the brave men, (they were all men back then) were loaded into the capsule. Then the digital countdown clock appeared on the lower screen of our TV. Usually, it started at least an hour or two before liftoff. And so we watched and waited patiently listening to more endless commentary.

Finally, when all systems were declared “GO” the final countdown continued to the last minute. Everything somehow felt like it was speeding up. The rocket engines were ignited and huge flames erupted from the tower base. A mechanical sounding voice from NASA mission control came on the air to begin the final count … 10, 9, 8, … 3, 2, 1 and we have lift off. Slowly the rocket began to rise with the astronauts aboard it. Once it reached a certain altitude the rocket would begin to roll according to the computer program. All those years of planning and all the many millions of calculations were taking place right before our eyes. Even today it still makes me tingle with amazement just thinking about watching a live broadcast of a rocket soaring into space.

In a way I’ve been living a new type of countdown in my own life. I announced back in February that I would be retiring from active ministry this June 2nd. I’ve spent the last 30 years of my life as a parish priest. I’ve been part of three Episcopal dioceses. I’ve served in five parishes in two countries. 

It has been a vocation that has been rewarding and challenging. If I had it all to do over, I don’t think I would change a single thing. I know well the joys that come with having a job that allows me to “Hatch’em, Match’em, and Dispatch’em”. My life continues to be transformed each time I preside at the altar during the breaking of the bread and the sharing of the cup.

 I have now reached that point in my priesthood where I’m keenly aware of the long list of things that I am doing for the very last time. There has been the last Christmas, the last Holy Week, the last Easter, the last Bishop’s visitation. Then there are other lasts on the list as well. My last diocesan convention, my last vestry meeting, my last Stewardship campaign, to name just a few. When you receive this monthly Saints’ Alive, I will have 30 days left before my retirement. We are experiencing together the final countdown of me as your parish priest.

There have been many valuable lessons I have learned along the way. Some of them came easy to me. Others were difficult and painful to learn but valuable nonetheless. Even after all these years nothing gives me more pleasure than walking a new baptized child down the aisle during the passing of the Peace. I am so grateful to have been ordained long enough to the see the day where any two people who love each other can now ask to have God bless their union in Holy Matrimony. It gives me hope for the future Church that the days of a male only clerics have finally given way to more inclusive Holy Orders where both men and women are ordained because each one of us has been created in the image of God. While there have certainly been times when the events in the world have broken my heart, I remain hopeful that Grace, Love, and Mercy, will have the final word of triumph over a world that still struggles with hate and evil.

Now that we are counting down my final days as your parish priest, I also realize this will be my last Saints’ Alive article. On June 3rd our lives will be different. I am looking forward to seeing what God has in store for me and Liz as we enter a new and exciting phase of our lives. For all the many times I was able to be present and helpful in your lives, I am truly grateful. For all the many times I fell short or let you down, I am truly sorry and I ask for your forgiveness. For all the many times we were able to see and feel the presence of God’s Love through Jesus Christ in each other, I give thanks for we were truly blessed.

God’s Peace & My Love, Mark+