Transition: Stuck Between Goodbye And Hello
Transitions happen to us all the time. We transition from sleeping to waking to begin our day. Some of us transition from home to work a short while thereafter. We experience transition when we get married or divorced, when we have kids, when we lose a loved one, or when we move and start a new job.
I'm currently in the latter on that list, and it is an odd time for someone in my vocation as a minister: that time between leaving a current setting and settling into a new one. My particular vocation usually requires a minimum of 60 to 90 days notice upon transitioning from one congregation to another, and that span of weeks is a myriad of emotions for any minister and any congregation.
On one hand, there is one body of people that is excited and joyful regarding the new minister's arrival. On the other, there is another body of people that is sad, sometimes angry, often shocked and shaken that its spiritual leader and teacher is going somewhere else. Oft times they feel abandoned, sometimes afraid for the unknown future of their church that lies ahead.
Both communities of people experience very real emotional and psychological journeys, and they are often profoundly opposite to one another.
And ministers get stuck between goodbye and hello for a span of weeks and are left to try and navigate their way through those vastly opposing emotional and psychological spaces. That space is for many of us, both clergy and laity, an uncomfortable place to be.
And yet there is a deeply profound Truth that exists for all parties involved that can be embraced in a way that allows for the possibility of a future filled with hope:
The inherent promise of the New Hello.
I often speak of the life of anyone, particularly a person of faith, as a Journey. That word infers movement and motion, of always heading "towards" a an ultimate destination of some sort. At times along that Journey we may encounter voices that beckon us to explore new pathways, new horizons. I always have an optimistic hope that those new places will hold amazing things, and growth will happen in the experience of them.
When The Journey resonates with the voice of a New Hello, and we feel beckoned strongly enough by it, we follow to see where it will lead us.
When churches and their leaders find themselves in such a scenario, the faith-filled promise of the New Hello is one that can be a vital component for everyone. Most obviously for the minister and her or his new congregation, but also profoundly for the congregation that must now find a new leader. There is most certainly a sense of instability in the transition of one minister to another; particularly if there is an Interim thrown into the mix that everyone knows won't be there forever. Yet more transition...
And yet if we embody being a Tomorrow-oriented people of faith, the transition from one minister to another can be experienced as a time of great promise and hope for any gathering of people. My current setting has gone through tremendous transition over the past six years as it has lost a vast majority of its Matriarchs and Patriarchs, as well as being greatly affected by the economy plummeting in 2008. It has made tremendously courageous strides to face these realities, and now it is a very solid, vibrant Family-sized church.
My departure at this particular time signals the possibility for a new set of eyes with a new vision for the future to come among them and make something NEW of what we've been creating these past years...something I could never dream of. Imagine the possibilities! What incredible hope and excitement there can be about a new vision of the future with a new leader. If churches can embody this mindset, the transition between leadership can be one of celebrating the time and gifts of the outgoing minister, and eagerly anticipating the beginning of the next chapter yet to be written.
Transitions are always difficult, even when filled with hope and possibility. The space between goodbye and hello is oft times an awkward and confusing place to find oneself, and there is often both sadness and joy experienced profoundly by all involved. Often we fear such transitions, and especially churches can run the risk of becoming victims to the fear that the departure of a minister somehow signals the end of that particular church. Nothing could be further from the truth! As Elizabeth Lesser so wisely says:
“How strange that the nature of life is change, yet the nature of human beings is to resist change. And how ironic that the difficult times we fear might ruin us are the very ones that can break us open and help us blossom into who we were meant to be.”
May we all, no matter what transition we find ourselves in along our Journey, embrace the hope of blossoming into who we are meant to be.