By Lyn Hunter, Pastor for Seniors
I love Syndal, I love the people, I love my job, I love my ministry partners… there is nothing that makes me want to leave Syndal. So why retire?
The short, simple answer: To share retirement with my husband, Chris, and be more available to members of our extended family...Only God knows what awaits beyond that! But if you'd like to understand more about how I arrived at the decision to retire, I hope my reflections below offer a helpful insight.
Our extended family includes ‘the Smith side’: Mum, pictured here with her four kids, their partners and most of her grandkids and great grandkids. Then there’s ‘the Hunter side’: Chris is one of five siblings, Mum Hunter - one of seven, Dad Hunter - one of twelve.
So we have an awesome extended family with in-laws, nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles and cousins, along with great and grand versions as well!
Chris plans to retire from teaching on Friday 17 September 2021 and I have recently discovered I can join him! So why wouldn’t I?
As I settle to write, I am very mindful of many friends who are not sharing retirement with their life-long partner, and my heart is with you.
For me, the thought of retirement with Chris feels surreal!
Chris and I never assumed upon it and the coming possibility is exciting.
In our early days, we discovered a mutual dream to travel around Australia "one day”.
We were 20 and 21, both teaching, enjoying dreamy conversations about travelling during Long Service Leave in years to come.
Reality check! I left teaching due to challenging pregnancies, then cared for our children and supported Chris in voluntary Youth Ministry while he kept teaching. Our youngest two children were still in nappies when Chris’ Long Service Leave came due. Being in the ‘pre-disposable-nappy’ era, we postponed the trip!
The next year, Chris left teaching to become the first Youth Pastor at Heathmont Baptist. Long Service Leave vaporised, along with our timeline for travelling around Australia.
If we mentioned it to anyone, they typically replied, "Oh well, you can do it in retirement!"
They assumed upon retirement. We did not.
One random day in our 30s, in a conversation out of nowhere, came the realisation that none of my close, older relatives reached retirement together - not Mum and Dad, Nana and Grandad, or Grandma and Grandpa.
Dad died at 39, Grandad at 47, Grandma in her 60s. Mum and Nana were widows at 37 and 45 respectively.
If we really wanted to fulfil our dream of travelling around Australia together, perhaps we had better do it sooner rather than later!
Unrelated experiences had already challenged us to consider leaving eastern suburban life. We were keen to explore the wider church in Australia and learn from Aboriginal people. After fourteen years of exciting-and-exhausting ministry, we found ourselves looking forward to sitting under a gum tree with God and sharing unhurried, uninterrupted time with our children.
Heathmont sent us off with love and blessings. We sold our house, bought a caravan and 4WD and headed off for a year with our children, then aged 6, 7, 9 & 11. That adventure is another story!
At the end of our trip, we settled in Canberra when Chris joined the pastoral team at Belconnen Baptist. Halfway through our fourth year, Dad Hunter died after an eight-year journey with Alzheimer’s. He was 68. Mum Hunter became a widow at 63 (the age I am now) and it dawned on us that Dad and Mum Hunter missed retiring together too.
Towards the end of that year, 1996, Chris and I independently experienced irrational unsettledness.
We loved living in Canberra, loved the people, loved the church and loved what we were doing, but our unsettledness only increased as several churches, unexpectedly and independently, contacted us to explore ministry opportunities elsewhere.
We could not ignore the promptings and earnestly sought God’s wisdom.
The tipping point came for me with an unforgettable, inexplicable, tingling rush through my body as I read the following:
1 Timothy 5: 3 Honour widows who are really widows. 4 If a widow has children or grandchildren, they should first learn their religious duty to their own family and make some repayment to their parents; for this is pleasing in God’s sight…8 And whoever does not provide for relatives, and especially for family members, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. 9 Let a widow be put on the list if she is not less than sixty years old and has been married only once; 10 she must be well attested for her good works, as one who has brought up children, shown hospitality, washed the saints’ feet, helped the afflicted, and devoted herself to doing good in every way… (This is a beautiful summary of both of our Mums!)
1 Timothy 5:16 If any believing woman has relatives who are really widows, let her assist them; let the church not be burdened, so that it can assist those who are real widows.
I am not a literalist but those words compelled me! It’s a longer story but, beyond ourselves, we were back in Melbourne within months, both in part-time pastoral roles in another church, now in close proximity to two widowed Mums and two widowed Grandmothers.
Life bubbled along. We came to Syndal Baptist, Chris returned to teaching, work moved to full-time, children grew and moved out, grandchildren were born and life stabilised. I returned to uni on my day off, Fridays. Overnight, though, theological essays faded into insignificance with Mum’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. Fridays have mostly been ‘Mum Days’ since then, often shared with kids and grandkids.
Saturdays are ‘Chris Days’ - our one day of overlap each week, joyfully shared with others as we are able. When geographically-distant friends and family members say, “Come for the weekend”, we squeeze it into holidays when possible.
Chris was diagnosed with Bowel Cancer in 2010. Major surgery and complications followed and the fragility of life confronted us. We reflected on the fulfilment of our ‘bucket-list-dream-trip’ around Australia in our 30’s, and counted our blessings.
The impact of Chris’ surgery remains, though he is cancer-free.
At the start of 2020, Chris declared he would like to retire from teaching at the end of 2021. We did not know if this was possible as our decision to sell our house and travel around Australia in 1992 was arguably the ‘best family decision’ and ‘worst financial decision’ we ever made!
We remain indebted to Murray Marx who urged us, years ago, to see a Financial Planner!
After fastidiously following financial advice, we were elated to discover that retirement was actually possible for Chris at the end of 2021! With accrued Long Service Leave, Chris gave notice that his last day of teaching will be 17 September 2021, the day before we head off to Flinders’ Ranges on our biennial outback adventure with kids and grandkids.
I celebrated the possibilities for Chris, while expecting to work longer myself. Apart from loving my job, I had not earned income for half our marriage and had much less Super than some. Therefore, I planned Annual Leave for Flinders’ Ranges and a normal return to work.
Life through 2020 invited me to rethink those plans. The death of very precious friends, new diagnoses for family members, declining cognition and health for some and a house move for others all played on my mind and stayed in my prayers.
I wanted to explore options, not because I want to leave Syndal but because I want to share retirement with Chris while endeavouring to be the wife, mum, mum-in-law, daughter, Nanny, sister, sister-in-law, niece, cousin, friend and neighbour that I hope yet to be. That is all that remains on my bucket list.
We met with our Financial Planner and left him to crunch the numbers.
Then we waited.
I recall the recent adrenalin rush when his email arrived. What would he advise? With my heart in both directions and my head in a spin, I read, “…You can stop work when Chris does…” It might not include Tim Tams every day but we won’t starve either! That works for us!
Mixed emotions overwhelmed me - elation at the possibility of retiring with Chris, shock and sorrow at the thought of leaving Syndal, gratitude for Murray’s wisdom and the partnership of our Financial Advisor (sorry, he is not taking new clients) and the realisation that another chapter of life is now in its final pages.
This year marks 50 years of Mum’s widowhood. When I told her of this decision via her Konnekt screen, she was initially “over the moon” with excitement, but her tone suddenly changed!
With seriousness, she questioned, “Oh love, you’re not doing this just for me are you?”
I smiled, “Not just for you Mum… but, yes, for you too.”
The day after, while still processing it ourselves, I found words to tell our Senior Pastor, Rev. Chris Danes, hoping it was most helpful to give him, and the church, the longest lead-time possible. The news then went to Staff and Church Council before emailing the Syndal Seniors on my email list. How I would love to have phoned everyone personally!
Some people have since shared their feelings with me, of sadness and disappointment. I wish that was avoidable! I love you and want the best for you. I can only hope and pray that you experience God’s love and care on this journey, as other people provide what I cannot.
I am taken back to 1 Timothy 5:16: "If any believing woman has relatives who are really widows, let her assist them; let the church not be burdened, so that it can assist those who are real widows."
I see two mandates here - one for me and one for Syndal Baptist Church.
While I aim to support family members who need assistance at this time, SBC, collectively, is to assist anyone for whom this church is their family - whether they be widowed, single, migrated… anyone who is ‘relatively’ or ‘relationally’ alone.
SBC has Five Core Values - Growing, Inclusive, Missional, Caring and Generous.
I invite you to commit those words to memory. They are our guiding principles.
There is room for growth in our care and inclusion of any and every person who needs our love and support. It was delightful to hear Syndal Seniors, in conversation together last year, birth the idea of ‘Friendship/Care Clusters’ where a few people connect together in friendship to support one another. It is a great idea that we will explore together in coming weeks.
SBC’s Leadership Team - Chris Danes, Church Council and the Pastoral Leadership Team - are prioritising next steps for Syndal’s Seniors. I did not plan or want to give them extra work at this time, but they are running with it. They are with you and for you.
At critical times in my childhood, Mum sang an old hymn, “God will take care of you”. Its assuring words have been true for me, over and over again. I just paused to listen again and pray those words for you. Perhaps you would like to listen too: God will take care of you.
For now, we can postpone goodbyes and do what our very own Rev. Dr. Bill Brown urged us to do in his Presidential Year with the Baptist Union of Victoria in 1994 - “Seize the day”!
I’m planning to keep doing what I’m called to do - to love and serve God by loving and serving people, as best I can, for as long as I can. I don’t plan on retiring from that!