Saturday, June 27, 2009

Transitions - Part 2

I really intended to write this second reflection on "transitions" the next week or so after the last one, but I didn't until now for a number of reasons. One is that my life still feels a little chaotic and unsettled, and one contributing factor for that is we haven't yet moved into the parsonage to begin creating our "home." So as my wife Joan was saying earlier, we still feel like we're in limbo. Another reason I haven't written is perhaps I'm still in many ways grieving leaving Victoria. I know that will continue for some time to come.

But, on the other hand, we have been warmly welcomed here. The church staff has been very welcoming and receptive, as have the other leaders and members of this congregation. They have received me and express an openness to my gifts and ministry here. And although we'll feel better about things here once we've been able to move into the house, we still are feeling a bit more at home here. It is a beautiful town, delightful really, and it is in an area of the state that has always felt like home.

Aside from the specifics of being here in Fredericksburg, one of the interesting and exciting dynamics of moving to a new church no matter where it is, is the sense that you're starting afresh, having a new beginning. The slate is clean, in a way. Any miscues in judgment in leadership you've made in the previous appointment you had to live with the aftermath of have faded away, other than what you might be able to learn from them. It's a new day. For that I am thankful. Of course, now I'm free to make new blunders! But with God's help I'll endeavor to be a better pastor, better preacher, better spiritual leader here than in any previous appointment. We also look forward to new friends, new relationships, new partners in ministry. It would be my hope that we will be able to form relationships with people here in Fredericksburg that will be just as close as those it has been (and will continue to be) so painful to leave in Victoria.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Transitions - Part 1

Transition. It always fascinates me. We had our last Sunday in Victoria this past week. It was a bittersweet experience. It was good in that people were very gracious, generous and appreciative. Different gestures, notes, emails, expressions of appreciation from individuals, groups and from the whole congregation were very gratifying. There were many people who said things to me about how much my being their friend and pastor has meant to them which weren't surprising at all in that I knew that we'd had a significant relationship. But there were others who said similar things to me that surprised me. Not people who I thought were not supportive of me as pastor or who I thought didn't like me very much, just people I had no idea on whom I have had such an impact. I also received a card with an expression of gratitude from someone regarding a particular thing I had once done for her that had been very powerful for her. I remember doing it, and I knew it was a good thing to do, I just had no idea just how significant it would be. It just reminds me that little things you often do - writing a note of affirmation or appreciation, for example - will have a far greater impact than we often realize. I pray God will help me to remember that as I have similar opportunities to make such gestures in the future. The whole experience was sweet.

But on the other hand, it was bitter. I was saying goodbye. I was tearing myself away from people I have loved, people I have served and walked with through significant times in their lives; people who have loved me and supported me through challenging and difficult times in my life. Although I will always hold them in my heart, many of them I will never see again. Others I will see again and continue to be in contact with, but I will never have the same relationship with them as pastor again. I will be their friend, even perhaps their beloved brother in Christ, but I will never again be their pastor, their spiritual leader. And I will most certainly not be in a position to have regular contact with them as I have, even as their friend. That's a painful thing.

As I reflect on that, however, I'm thankful for the pain - both theirs and mine, because it's a sign of love - a sign of significant relationship. They wouldn't want a pastor who they were glad to see go, and I wouldn't want to serve a congregation it's not hard to leave. I've said many times to funeral congregations that there's a sense in which it's appropriate to be thankful for grief because it's a sign of love. If we didn't love, we wouldn't grieve. So in that sense I'm thankful for the grief and sadness this leaving, this saying goodbye entails.

My next post I'll talk about saying hello to a new congregation.