Rev. Craig Tanksley says he isn’t so much retiring as ‘re-firing’.
While the popular rector of St. Mark’s Anglican Church in Ocean Park is stepping down after 12 years with the parish, he said he’s viewing it as an opportunity to recharge and reinvigorate his commitment to serving God.
Tanksley conducted his last services at the church on Sunday, Jan. 19 – and, as he told Peace Arch News in a recent interview, will write finis to that particular chapter of his life by the end of this month.
“I can’t believe how quickly time has gone by – it’s been a full and wonderful life,” he said.
Retirement for Anglican ministers is mandated at age 55, he said – “although you can extend that time by a year, and I’ve managed to extend it by half a year.”
Leaving a congregation in whose lives he has been deeply involved for so long will be hard, the affable clergyman admitted.
Also hard to follow will be the policy that, as a retiring minister, he must find another congregation to worship with – the etiquette is that continued presence of a minister at his former church can be viewed as interference with the ministry of whoever is chosen as his successor (at this writing, who will succeed him at St. Mark’s has not been finalized).
But the keen and adventurous outdoorsman, sportsman, motorcyclist, kayaker and world traveller said he is, however, looking forward to an empty agenda, for the next six months at least.
“It’s probably a good moment for me to step away – in a real way it brings to a conclusion 41 years of full-time active ministry,” said the Washington-born Tanksley, who prepared for the ministry at Northwest University in Kirkland.
He noted that, as a child with four siblings raised in a strong Christian faith, he began as part of a family music ministry team – known as The Gospel Singing Tanksleys – who performed all over the Pacific Northwest.
“My mom was inspired by the movie The Sound of Music – she taught us to sing in harmony and we had matching outfits and everything.”
But, as he also noted, a calling is so much more than a career – and his involvement with ministry is sure to continue in some other form in the future.
“You can retire from a job and you can probably retire from a career,” he said. “As a clergyman and as a minister you can’t retire from your calling.“
“I plan to take a good long break and not to take on any commitments. I plan to be open to God and listening to God about the future.
“Sometimes, as a clergyman, you’re so busy that you can’t see the forest for the trees – when you’re in the thick of ministry it’s sometimes difficult to hear God’s voice. Sometimes you have to be like Elijah, who was in the wilderness when he heard the ‘still, small voice of God.’”
Tanksley – who took Canadian citizenship in the 1990s after finishing post-graduate work at Regent College and joining the staff of Holy Trinity Anglican Church in South Vancouver – is also very mindful of the role of his Canadian-born wife Holly in his ministry.
That’s a role that will also end as he retires, he said
“One of the greatest gifts of my life has been that I have a true partner in ministry – the calling in her life is as strong as my own,” he said, adding that in addition to having been a member of the much-travelled Celebrant Singers, Holly also worked on her own mission of establishing a church in Africa, just as he once did in the Phillipines.
“Her background is like mine and she has been there alongside me from the beginning,” Tanksley said.
“She has carried a load of the ministry herself, including handling all of the ESL congregation and growing that, and she’s also been involved musically – she’s been the go-to person to fill in if somebody didn’t show up. And she has a gift of hospitality, which has been very helpful as we’ve used our home for meetings, gatherings and celebrations.
“In some ways it’s going to be harder and more emotional for her to leave that behind,” he added. “Both of us have a very large adjustment to make.”
Fortunately they share the same love of hiking and backpacking – and international travel, which Tanksley describes as “one of the joys of our life.”
They even have a standing joke about who has visited the most countries, he said.
“It’s a bit of a game with us, or a hobby – and she had a long head start on me from her days with the Celebrant Singers. I’ll probably never catch up to her – she’s now approaching somewhere over 90 countries, and that’s boots on the ground. We don’t count those times when we’re transferring planes, going from one side of a terminal to another.”
They also share the love of listening to and singing music, which Tanksley described as “one of the greatest gifts God gave to human beings.”
But he acknowledges that his recent return to motorcycling, after many years away from it, is a personal indulgence.
“I got my B.C. licence and I’m having a ball,” he said. “I get on that motorcycle on an open road and I drop 10 years off my age. Last summer I had a motorcycle blessing service in the parking lot of St. Mark’s and after that we all did a ride together to Fort Langley.”
Tanksley said he has found great joy in his work at St. Mark’s, not the least of it being getting to know so many in the congregation and community.
“A highlight for me has been the privilege of being invited into the most personal moments of people’s lives, from birth to death and everything in-between,” he said.
By the same token, he said, it has been a challenge to lose – and actively miss – older members of the congregation who have passed away.
“I look at their familiar places in the pews and still see them there,” he said.
“A very fresh and recent challenge for me is the challenge of letting go – of both my role as pastor and the people in the congregation,” he said.
“Fortunately I’m choosing the time and leaving when they still love me – or, at least, I hope they do, because I certainly love them.”