About a month ago I received a call to serve as pastor at another congregation in a different community which I have accepted. A call process takes time (a few months), requires a lot of thought, consultation with others and conversation with God in prayer to figure it all out. This post isn’t really about that, nor is it about the reactions I’ve received (though I’ll share a little on that). It is about the middle space, because that is where I live now.
Reactions to my leaving have been mixed. Most people are sad that I am leaving and have thanked me for our time together while wishing me and my family well. Others, however, have responded in a more emotionally charged way – assigning blame and saying some things that would have been better kept to themselves. I’ve seen my role since sharing the news of my departure as one of listening and fielding questions. It has been exhausting. I have found it is good to keep moving – the hurtful words don’t tend to stick as long.
On the other side of the equation is excitement for what is to come.
It is customary in the ELCA for a month take place between announcing you as pastor are leaving your congregation and your last Sunday together with your people. Alongside all the other changes that come with moving, the timeline my family has been working towards was getting the kids into school in our new town as quickly as was possible. Tammie and the kids moved there a couple of weeks ago. Besides a visit once a week, during this month I’ve lived alone in the parsonage we’ll be leaving in October.
People say that clergy live a solitary life even though we are with people a lot of the time. In my experience it really is true; as much as you enter a community you remain somehow outside of it, and no matter how long you serve a congregation, eventually you will move on to a life beyond it. My mentor used to say that, “Ministry is not a sprint, it is a relay race, and one of our jobs as pastors is to carry the baton to whomever comes to run next.” The people in congregations seem to have a different sense of permanence than pastors intuitively understand. We are by trade not squatters but distance runners, running that great relay with perseverance in until it is our turn to hand off that baton. If you want the truth, many of us doubt we can run that far.
I’ve made it to the next transition zone, with the baton still in hand without dropping it (thank God). I am grateful for the leg I’ve run. But I stand here now alone, baton in hand.
It is isolating to be between the worlds. I’ve described this feeling to friends as being in multiple places at once but not being fully present in any of them. I’m busier than ever – keeping track of my family (but from a distance), seeing people for the last time as their pastor, cleaning and packing, prepping for my new home and work, working through my lists, sorting through my own emotions, and processing things people have said to me in the last few weeks.
In God’s good time I believe what both I and my soon to be former congregation will remember are all the good times we’ve had together here, the “God moments” when people made great discoveries, the joy, laughter, and relative peace after years of hardship prior to my arrival, our walking together through missteps as well as great triumphs, the new people we’ve welcomed that have become integral to this congregation and all the hard work that made so many things happen. The only true crisis we faced in my tenure was when I got hurt in a sledding accident. People rallied, and I recovered. We did some healing from some other old wounds too. I love these people and am sad to leave them; but it is time to move on. They will rally. I can say that this has been a good ministry; a great leg of the race. Most of the time I find myself stopping in the midst of these busy days to consider our shared journey and give thanks for it with a smile.
Yet I’m also eager to begin the new journey that lies ahead. I’ve known, probably longer than I could articulate it, that it was time for something new. God moves, nudges and pushes us into our next great challenge whether we are ready to admit it or not, or if we think we are ready for it or not. Who are we to even think we can resist it? I’ve been thinking about the moments I resisted it at first, but am thankful that my “no” was neither mine or God’s final answer on the matter.
“God, show me the way” has been a constant prayer for a long time; months at least, probably longer. Now I know what the time between the worlds is for: providing some necessary space to regroup and refocus; to pull back and seek new commitments, to gird up courage and confidence to face the unknown, to come to terms with decisions vetted and made, yet finding solace that none of it is really about yourself at all.
That’s just the thing: we make everything about us, don’t we? That is our primary sin. We think the world revolves around us, and that anything that happens to us, be it good or bad, expected or unexpected, planned or unplanned – is some kind of a commentary on our self-worth at the center of our self-made universe. Well, it isn’t. God (not any of us) creates, saves and sustains the world, and the best thing we can do is accept this truth in gratitude while asking, “What then God, will you do with me?” For a while we may remain between the worlds, but in faith we can trust that the Holy Spirit is blowing. God among us in Christ is always on the move, calling us to take the next step forward.
The question is: Are we ready to go?
“Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” (John 20:21)
P.S. Even though I’m moving, the blog continues…