When the Rev. Linda Crowe speaks from the pulpit at Veradale United Church of Christ for the last time on Sunday, there are sure to be some tears.
Crowe has led the church on Progress Road for 17 1/2 years, making her the church’s longest-serving pastor. She has created firm relationships with generations of members, making her retirement all the more difficult.
As she sat in her office Tuesday amid diminishing piles of books, she fought tears as she talked about leaving her beloved congregation. “I’m grieving the end of a long-term relationship,” she said. “I have deeply loved my church family, young and old.”
Her touch can be seen around the church in ways physical and spiritual. She designed the stained glass windows in the sanctuary. The congregation voted last year to become an “open and affirming” church, which means there is an official statement welcoming lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender individuals. “That is a clear statement of welcome,” she said.
But Crowe declines to take credit for the vote. Crowe said she was supportive, but did not manage the process. “That was not a pastor-led process,” she said. “It works much better if the congregation leads the way.”
Last weekend Crowe led her first covenant service uniting a same-sex couple. “It was a holy privilege,” she said. The words are a little different from a marriage ceremony, she said, but the feeling is the same. “You do speak about love and you definitely speak about commitment.”
As painful as it is to leave a church that has been her home for so long, Crowe is ready to reunite with her husband of 43 years, Randy. He retired two weeks ago after being the director of Camp N-Sid-Sen on the east side of Lake Coeur d’Alene for 22 years. For all of that time the couple have lived apart as Crowe attended seminary and then worked as an interim pastor in Pullman before coming to Spokane Valley.
Randy Crowe lived at the camp and she would visit him weekly. “We’ve lived apart since the fall of 1991,” Crowe said. “It is very different to be living in the same house, but we’re still holding hands.”
The two plan to spend two months this summer traveling the country in a Volkswagen camper visiting family and friends.
“We’ll visit as many national parks and monuments as we can fit in between here and Wisconsin,” she said. “We’ll take the back roads.”
After her trip Crowe plans to work in interim ministry for a couple of years before retiring for good. She would love to serve in Maui or perhaps in New England where her ancestors helped found several Congregational churches. “It would be wonderful to soak up that history,” she said.
While she and her husband plan to retire in Spokane Valley, she won’t be at her old church anytime soon. Crowe said she plans to honor guidelines that require a pastor to stay away from a church until at least one year after a new pastor is selected. It’s to help a congregation get accustomed to a new pastor. And it’s a guideline not always followed, Crowe said.
“I’ve heard too many horror stories,” she said. “I will not do that. It will be a graceful departure.”
As she balances excitement for the future and sadness at the end of her pastorate, Crowe said she is also filled with gratitude. “I’m so grateful that the church has grown and changed,” she said. “I just feel so richly blessed by the ministry here. I have lots and lots of good memories.”