Tomorrow is the last Sunday of 2018. It is also the last Sunday Michael Dixon will lead the Paris First Christian Church – Disciples of Christ in worship.
Dixon is retiring after a 40-year career in the ministry, all of which except for 13 years, was with the Paris church.
“There will be some emotions, but at that point I will shift into professional mode,” said Dixon.
Peg Dixon, his wife, is less confident about her ability to hold it together from the pews.
“I won’t get through it,” she said, comparing the change in their lives to a divorce or death.
She added over the years they have built strong connections with the congregation. They were present for marriages, deaths and watched children grow and start the cycle again.
“The relationship is changing. It won’t be the same,” she said.
Retirement, they acknowledge, is a change and something they will need time to process – especially so for Mike Dixon who still enjoys the work of a pastor.
“It was a struggle. It was not an easy thing,” he said about the decision to retire. “When I turned 65 I started looking at that.”
His decision was delayed when the congregation decided to hire a youth pastor and Dixon remained to help get that new position established.
“It’s time for somebody else,” Mike Dixon said. “I think the church can benefit from a change.”
While retirement opens a new chapter for the couple, so did coming to Paris in 1991 as pastor of the long established church. He was the pastor of a Christian church at Pittsfield in far western Illinois at the time and had served there for six years. The couple decided to make the move because being in Paris put them much closer to family in northern Indiana.
The initial move came with some shock.
“Paris in the early ’90s was not a thriving community,” said Mike Dixon.
It was especially hard on their daughters who were in school and for whom Pittsfield was the only home they knew.
Peg Dixon recalls sitting on the porch of their Paris home with the girls the day they moved in. All of them were crying.
“It was hard,” she said. “He was coming to a job. We were being torn from a home.”
The transition was eased through an already established network of people in the congregation, which quickly helped the girls make friends. Now the entire family considers Paris as their hometown, and Mike and Peg Dixon plan to remain here for retirement and look forward to attending other area churches for worship. They will not join the congregation of the Christian Church for at least one year out of courtesy to the incoming pastor.
“A new person needs time to get established,” said Mike Dixon. “After the transition, this will be home.”
He is not ready to completely leave pastoring and is open to the idea of serving as an interim pastor for other churches that may experience a time between ministers. The biggest challenge for him is finding a way to channel the creativity that came with getting an idea for a sermon and writing it or perhaps a new project at the church and working out the details to make that happen. His creativity has resulted in doing Christmas services in a barn, having a commercial Sunday where he tied pop culture and well-known advertising slogans into the message and a persecuted church where he told the congregation authorities were on the way to close the church. He then instructed the deacons to take charge of Bibles, hymnals, communion sets and other regalia of the worship service and the congregation followed him to a basement room where they got a sense of what it is like to worship in secret.
“It helped keep things alive,” said Mike Dixon.
Peg Dixon has no doubts about the biggest transition she will face during the early months of 2019.
“It will be weird having him home all of the time,” she said.
She is already retired after a career of teaching music at Carolyn Wenz Elementary School. Unlike her husband, she had no doubt it was time to retire when she started seeing students who were offspring of her original students.
“I was the only one on the faculty who had gray hair,” she said.
Everything about serving as a pastor, even committee meetings, is something Mike Dixon will miss. He added the benefit to the long-term pastorate he enjoyed with the First Christian Church is observing the growth of the church and the growth of individuals in their faith.
“That’s a real joy,” said Mike Dixon.
In a way, his retirement is another retirement for his wife, who served as choir director for the church for many years and participated on numerous committees. He explained that came as a natural desire on her part to be involved because he made it clear to the search committee they were hiring only him and his wife’s responsibilities were to their daughters and her career as a teacher.
Peg Dixon said it is not burdensome being a preacher’s wife but there was a self-imposed liability in that she was always concerned she might inadvertently do something to hurt somebody’s spiritual life. Her husband downplayed that concern.
“Peg has been a great asset,” said Mike Dixon. “Her love, her service, her support draw people to her. I turn to her for ideas.”
Some aspects of retirement are starting to look good. He no longer faces deadlines and has more time to spend visiting children and grandchildren. There are also home and yard projects on the to-do list.
As a people person, it will be hard for him adjusting to fewer connections.
“I look at the privilege of being invited into people’s lives,” he said. “We have been very privileged and blessed. I never dreamed I would be one of the old guys sitting around talking about things the way they were, but God’s been good.”