I Retire on June 1, 2025

Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening by Robert Frost

Whose woods these are I think I know.

His house is in the village though;

He will not see me stopping here

To watch his woods fill up with snow.


My little horse must think it queer

To stop without a farmhouse near

Between the woods and frozen lake

The darkest evening of the year.


He gives his harness bells a shake

To ask if there is some mistake.

The only other sound’s the sweep

Of easy wind and downy flake.


The woods are lovely, dark and deep,

But I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep,

And miles to go before I sleep.


Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening is a well-known Frost classic. Written in 1922 and published in 1923 it quickly became a poem to keep in memory and although many people know the words by heart, interpretation isn't quite as straightforward. Depending on how the poem is interpreted it could mean that the poet was far from home, or figuratively it could mean that he had much to accomplish before dying.


you have a lot to do before you can rest

to complete something before you die

A Means to Understand this Poem

Even though I am getting older, I am not ready to quit working yet. I have miles to go before I sleep, things I want to accomplish before I retire.

Retaining Newcomers

People often ask me about the success I seem to have with retaining newcomers, people who show up in church for a “look see” and end up staying for a longer period of time. Colleagues have asked me about this, what my strategy is, an article I might point to, a workshop or “best practices” I could lead. The process I follow is slightly informal, instinctual and grounded in an entrepreneurial spirit. I find the newcomer to be a moment in time that requires immediate attention, and the key to “success” with that person is almost always brought about by a connection between them and someone or something in the congregation.

People give clergy too much credit when people stick around and too much blame when they don’t. The reality is there are many, many churches without dynamic clergy leadership that retain newcomers and many, many churches with dynamic clergy leadership that are challenged to keep the people who arrive at their front door. Almost always that “special sauce” is someone or someones, whom either formally or informally take it upon him/herself to lead the newcomer to a deeper connection that exists within the church. When I served the St. Luke’s congregation in Tantallon those persons were Brian and Heather, here at Bethany it is often Gordon who makes these connections. I am also aware of churches who have formalized this process, have a Welcoming Committee or Team who hover at key entry points to the church. They have brochures, rotating team members, protocols, etc… This is the preferred approach. But most churches operate more informally and they effectiveness of the welcome is no less powerful.

Lately at Bethany we’ve have a number of new people “kicking the tires”. I go to a lot of churches and very rarely does the Minister or any person offering announcements reference a piece of paper a newcomer can fill in. Even churches with such papers in every pew there is no mention of the form. None. I have always mentioned the form and when filled out I call the same day, Sunday, and offer to take the person for a coffee at a café of their choosing. Some prefer to meet at my office, either way there is a connection, a chance to answer questions and refer them to people in the church who lead groups that would be of interest to the newcomer.

This past week the three persons I visited over coffee were all musically inclined. I told them all about our very talented Minister of Music, Shawn. Shawn is a well-known and well-loved musician in the city. He is a grand asset to this retention effort. Poor Shawn, yesterday I asked him to postpone his Prelude to meet one of newcomers in the pew. It was Father’s Day and I knew Shawn would be off as soon as church ended. When the newcomer walked into church at 10:20 am I knew I had to strike quickly. A very reluctant Shawn, “how would you like it if I interrupted your sermon?”, came to meet this newcomer and make her feel welcome, invited her to join the choir. I could tell from the body language Shawn’s intervention was very effective, I apologized later for my interruption of the Prelude. Still, I feel it was effective and necessary.

Newcomers arrive at our churches looking for a connection. How are they received, whom will they meet, what introductions will they receive? Thinking about the answers to these questions is crucial to retaining “seekers”. You cannot have success without first setting as a priority to meet the challenge you expect and desire.

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