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I retired a few years ago, said goodbye to my last congregation in Zürich, Switzerland, moved to Holland, Michigan, and started a new life.

I became active in a lifelong-learning organization connected to Hope College (HASP), taught classes there, started CrossFit, wrote a book, walked the Camino de Santiago alone in March, learned to cook, constructed my family tree (with the help of, did some guest preaching (more than I expected), and generally adapted to a new way of life.

Successfully, I thought. I was so pleased with myself.

And then, last spring, I was contacted by a church about being their interim pastor. I had several meetings with them – even went out to dinner with the committee chair who traveled to Holland to talk with me about the job – and in the end withdrew my name.

The work seemed way too much like what I had done for more than 40 years. “Not to go all Marie Kondo on you,” I remember saying, “but there isn’t much about this job description that sparks joy in me.” I felt relieved with my decision.

Within a month, another church contacted me, and this time the meetings led to a commitment. I agreed to be their interim pastor.

During the interview with the other church, the one I am serving now, a search committee member asked, “Why do you want to do this?” A good question. My wife had asked the same question, using more colorful words.

The answer came easily. I heard myself say, “I love the church. And I know that it has gone through a difficult two years – with Covid and everything. I would like to help where I can.” Nothing about joy. What I felt instead was a commitment to something that I have devoted my life to. Throughout my life I have felt a strong, occasionally overwhelming, sense of call. I’m glad I said yes.

But, here I am, 4,000 miles from home, entering the seventh month of an interim pastorate, and I am wondering what comes next. The search process is winding down, a candidate for the senior pastor position has been identified, and soon I will be getting on a plane and returning to my old life.

Or will I?

Several times in the last year, I mentioned my desire to go home, and church members have invariably said, “Pastors never retire.” Some of them have said it with a knowing smile, as if I am the one who is slow to catch on. “It’s really a lifetime commitment,” they seem to be saying, even as they make plans to leave their jobs and enjoy their pensions with travel, sailing, and more.

Is it true that pastors never retire?

Looking back, I think I treated my own retirement like a kind of sabbatical. I did everything I had ever dreamed of doing in retirement, and I did it in a single year. It’s in my personality to do things that way, but now I wonder if I just needed a break, time to explore, some space to breathe. I had one sabbatical in 40 years of ministry, and I could have used several more.

I love my work, but stepping back and doing other things was helpful and restorative. That one time I took a sabbatical, I came back refreshed. I re-entered my ministry with a new vitality and energy. A leader at that church said, “If we had known how energized you would be, we would have suggested it much earlier.” (For the record, I asked for the sabbatical, and the request was met mostly with skepticism.)

At the church I served in Wheaton, Illinois, more than 25 years ago, an older pastor started to worship with us. He had just moved to a nearby retirement community. He didn’t like it, and said so, but he was making the best of it. I remember him saying, referring to his retirement community, “This is my new parish.”

I deeply respected that man and his wisdom. I felt honored when the family asked me to participate in his memorial service a few years later. And I have not forgotten his words. All those years ago, I remember thinking that he was onto something. I may not serve another church – my wife will be glad – but I will find my next parish wherever I am.

In that sense, I do not expect to retire.

Doug Brouwer

Douglas Brouwer is a retired Presbyterian pastor who is serving this school year, 2022-2023, as the interim pastor at the American Protestant Church in the Hague, Netherlands.


  • Daniel Meeter says:

    Indeed. I too needed that break. Before I retired from Old First Brooklyn, I thought, Great, I’m almost done, and soon I can be an usher at the Metropolitan Opera. I retired during Covid, and everything changed. We moved, which we hadn’t anticipated. After almost a year of passivity (not completely healthy), I did the paper work of transferring my credentials to an Upstate classis, and heard myself declaring, as I had done five times before, “I pledge my life . . .. .” My life wasn’t over. So I began a year of occasional pulpit supply in these little upstate parishes, helping out consistories for no pay, and then, well, now here I am preaching the first four Sundays of Lent at the Protestant Church in Oman. I just wish I hadn’t gotten rid of most of my books when I retired.

    • Johannes Witte says:

      Great new chapter; it will make more changes in your life and worldview from the highschooler I met in 1971. Enjoy what lies ahead.

  • Dirk Jan Kramer says:

    One of the newly found joys of preaching in retirement I’ve discovered is the freedom to “call ‘em the way you see ‘em.” The fear of offending someone by what I say in “a prophetic sermon” has been totally removed. The good Lord, knowing I’d be in deep trouble if I were preaching in the current politically charged atmosphere in the States, has seen fit to keep me safely retired in Canada where I can get away with this.

    • Sue Damon says:

      I was always grateful for your preaching, and I’m glad you’ve stayed in Canada. Hoping to see you and Jean again soon!

  • Rev. Nolan Palsma says:

    As one who is retiring in two months, this article was insightful, especially that my new parish will be wherever I am.

  • John Kleinheksel says:

    O Doug,
    Your journey. A lot like my own.
    Old pastors never die. They just keep serving until they fade away.
    Let’s have coffee when you return to Holland and compare notes about how God has been at work, and continues to work for the good of everybody. With us and without us.
    Wherever we find ourselves (and the choices we make) is our next parish. Bless you, my colleague.

  • Nancy Tuten says:

    Love reading your posts, Doug!

  • Tony Vis says:

    In the words of the prophet, Michael Corleone, “Just as I thought I was out, they pull me back in!”

  • Bruce Buursma says:

    My pastor-father had grand plans to retire to his childhood home in Holland, Michigan, where he would take long walks in Waukazoo Woods, plant and tend a garden, and read all those fine books for which he had little time throughout his busy career as a CRC cleric. But none of that happened. Instead, he found his next parish, and the next, and the next — serving in interim roles, accepting every preaching request that came his way, and joining the staff as a part-time mentor to younger pastors for years at a time. His idyllic vision of retirement would have made him miserable and he lived out his call with joyful duty to the end of his days.

  • Cathy Smith says:

    I just finished your memoir, Chasing After Wind, a few days ago and now I’m smiling about this post! I had lots of plans for my retirement, but have been mostly busy with a lot of care-giving for various family members. Kingdom work of a different kind. “Content in all circumstances.”

  • Susan Damon says:

    Doug, did you serve at Wheaton CRC? My brother-in-law, John Schuurman, served there for many years before retiring. He and Janet now attend a Presbyterian church in Wheaton.

  • “Pastors never retire.” In fact, retirement is only mentioned once in the Bible, and it is reserved for pastors (Levites)! When the “heavy lifting” of carrying the tabernacle became too much, they were to retire– sometime in their mid-50s. But they would always be allowed to offer sacrifices. See Numbers 8:5-26. Like you, I’ve remained busy in retirement– I’m working on my second book, teaching, and pulpit supply. But I also need to learn to “slow down.” I don’t have to go 90 miles an hour 14 hours a day anymore. I find that a challenge.

  • Deb Mechler says:

    A great argument for sabbaticals, which I was not granted, but needed. After a year of retirement, other pursuits give me joy, but I do enjoy supply preaching. I’ll say this, retirement is weird. A major life change that takes discernment and help if you need it. But being a retired pastor in the pew is the strangest, and I find it a struggle. I’d love to see someone write about that in RJ. Thanks for this essay.

  • Fred Mueller says:

    I can’t believe no one recited that old saw, “Old minister don’t die, they just go out to pastor.”

  • Judith Bowen says:

    Hello Doug, Am so enjoying your posts over these last two years. I am not a Pastor, but have always felt drawn to the church – Lutheran and now Episcopal in my case. After 40+ years as a health care professional and over a decade of being “retired”, I am still who I always was from the day I was born. A person devoted to the search for Spirit, always finding it in relationship. Relationship to people, nature, all of Creation. I am finding that when my brain tortures me with what shall I do next, when I turn my brain off and just listen to my heart, I am always led to where I am meant to be. I remember from somewhere the phrase, “We all come here with lessons to learn and gifts to give”. I think that never ends. My gift to give is simply to be the fullness of myself no matter where I am planted. With respect and gratitude for your friendship and your willingness to share your journey.

  • Dani Marquardt says:

    Doug. As usual, loved your thoughts. Finally decided to retire on April 3 and I have woken up every morning hyperventilating since I committed to that decision. The only concrete plan I have is to tutor English as a second language. Trying to keep my mind open to what should come next. Who knew retiring would be so stressful?!!

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