It’s been an incredible season of emptying. Heart-breaking and heart-opening as leave-takings at their best can be.
And this time of saying goodbye, I tried doing some things differently.
Instead of walking away from the grief, I accepted it. Let myself feel it, and be carried forth by it.
Instead of worrying all Fall about what comes next as I step out into a new season in a new year, I’ve focused on being present to saying goodbye and letting go.
Instead of not having time, made time for the conversations that needed to happen.
It has truly transformed me to be more deeply in a heart-open way in the world.
As I prepare to step away from being one of your pastors, we step into a season of separation. The United Church of Christ knows that this two year separation is a necessary time for a congregation and a pastor to make room for new leadership in a congregation and a new beginning for the pastor. This is not to say it’s easy especially when there have been deep connections as we have walked together in trials of the spirit and times of joy.
In the impossibility of saying goodbye to those we love, I draw hope and strength by remembering these things:
- All relationships end. On December 30, I will take off the church’s stole and return my keys. I will no longer be one of your pastors. It’s not true that I “won’t care” about what decisions the church makes in the future – the fact is for your healthy new beginning and my own I can’t. I can’t “care” in the same way I have done as serving as one of your pastors – hoping for and seeking to craft certain outcomes.
- And I am reminded that all relationships never end. Those who have touched our hearts and lives can never be separated from us – and how could they be? The relationships, connections in our lives shape who we are, are entwined with our very being and way in the world. The work of care that we have done changes over time but that which is at the heart of it – our deep connection as part of the body of Christ and expression of God’s love in the world – such love never ends. I do and will keep this congregation in my heart and prayers always.
I can’t not do that – you have helped make me who I am today, and our relationship with each other as pastor and congregation has shaped and changed us.
As we approach the darkest time of year this Advent, we also anticipate the birth of Jesus Christ. In this darkest night, the one we call the Light comes into the world. And what a good season to remember in the times of uncertainty and unknowing it is Christ who beckons us to step forth again in fear and trembling, in faith, hope and love – and Go. To leave what familiar frames we have mistaken for the totality of our lives and to step into and through our fear and be remade as God’s new creation. For some it means leaving a familiar place, for others being there in new ways. For all, a journey.
In June 1994, when this congregation prepared to vote on calling Dave and me as associate pastors, we ended our sermon with a quote from St. John of the Cross:
I said to the man who stood at the gate, “Give me a light that I may see my way into the darkness!”
“Put your hand out into the darkness”, he said, “that is safer and better than a known way.”
On that Sunday, in fear and trembling, in hope and expectation, this congregation put out their hand.
Now, decades later, transformed by the faith and trust we have had witnessed, Christ calls us all to put out our own hand.