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By W. TERENCE ERBELE
I am grateful for the privilege of spending 10 years in Ketchikan. The vast majority only experience six hours. Many come for a day or two. Quite a few arrive knowing it will be two or three years before the next assignment and hopefully a promotion. Others find a summer job and figure out that Ketchikan is a pretty tolerable place to live and so they settle in. Very few can boast of a 100 years or more.
Sooner or later, we all leave this island. My turn came June 11. Before fading too far from collective memory I say thank you to Ketchikan and especially to First United Methodist Church who welcomed us at the ferry terminal and have graciously survived an abundance of inadequacies.
We were frequently asked if we were excited about leaving. The answer was and is “No!” My wife asked me what I will miss the most. My response: “The rain.” It makes the air cleaner, keeps the forest green, and moderates the temperature. Figuratively, as the recipient of so many deeds of kindness and words of encouragement rained upon us, I treasure the collage of experiences and memories.
It is hard to leave friends. The church has been our family throughout, supporting and praying for us. The Ketchikan Ministerial Association and the community, as a whole, has affirmed our efforts.
Thank you to individuals like Johny Gilson, who gave me my salmon fishing lessons and eventually introduced me to his charter guests as “crew in training,” and John Peckham, who almost convinced me that I missed my calling by hiring me as a deck hand on his seine boat for a few openings.
Serving as a chaplain of the Ketchikan Fire Department (of which Ketchikan should be proud) was an honor I cherish. The volunteers and professional staff are dedicated and delightful. They welcomed a stranger in their midst and taught me much.
Who could count the number of people who give of themselves tirelessly for the vast array of causes such as youth activities, the arts, senior services and for their churches?
I am in awe of the generosity expressed within Ketchikan. There is no reason for anyone to be hungry. In addition to the food pantries, one can find a least two meals being served every day of the week. It only took one Facebook picture of empty shelves to fill the Salvation Army cupboard in two days. It seems that every week there is a fundraiser or two such as the First City Council on Cancer auction or a spaghetti feed for a ball team.
As Ecclesiastes informs us, for everything there is a season. A paraphrase might be a time for the cruise ships to come and a time for cruise ships to leave; a time for the tides to flood and a time for the tides ebb; a time for salmon to go to sea and time for the salmon to swim upstream; a time to celebrate living in Ketchikan and time for a tearful farewell.
According to Isaiah the grass withers and the flower fades, but the Word of the Lord lasts forever. In this world of impermanence, St. Paul tells us, there are only three things that remain: Faith, hope and love, and the greatest of these is love. Ketchikan, be not weary in well doing, but keep on practicing the love of God and neighbor. My parting prayer is that each may know the grace of the Lord Jesus and the resulting joy unspeakable as we look forward to that day glorious day when the perishable will become imperishable and the mortal will put on immortality and we reside in the City of God which is permanent.
The Rev. W. Terence Erbele is a pastor of the United Methodist Church.
Perspectives is a regular column sponsored and written by members of the Ketchikan Ministerial Association.