February 15, 2012


This morning I received the letter from my Rector saying he was leaving our parish in New York City and going to a congregation in Vermont. We knew it was coming…he’d always said he’d serve at St. Mary’s for about 10 years. At last year’s annual meeting he reminded us the time was coming. 

But now it’s real. He delivered his resignation letter to the wardens and vestry. The announcement to the congregation has been made. A date for his last Sunday is set.

The transition process begins.

I’ve been feeling and thinking a lot about transition because I, too, am leaving. I’ll be leaving this beloved parish after 18 years and moving out of NYC. I’ll also be leaving my job with the Episcopal Church Foundation after 14 years of wonderful work. Like my rector leaving our congregation, there comes a time for a healthy change – the Holy Spirit calls us to go and grow in new ways, even though it means leaving many of the people and places we love.

In the last two weeks of the emotional rollercoaster with my own transition, I’ve taken time to remind myself about best practices for moving gracefully through change. I’ve read articles by William Bridges, including his wonderful retelling of Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt and through the wilderness. I’ve taken time to touch base with my colleagues about what they are feeling and thinking, in addition to drafting the action plan that will guide us for the next six weeks. I’ve been journaling and praying each morning, trying to get enough sleep every night.

This initial time of announcing a leave can be overwhelming and daunting. So when I received the official news this morning of my rector leaving, I had a sense of what he and parish leaders might be going through. I replied first with messages of encouragement, prayer, gratitude, and love – both to our rector and his wife, and to our wardens.

Next, I sent an email with resources about clergy transition. We have several good items here on ECF Vital Practices. I picked three from the blog about Fresh Start in the Search Process (2013 Update: Fresh Start is no longer active, the resources can now be found here) that I thought would be immediately helpful, and also suggested they read the Vestry Papers issue on Transition.

  • The Parable of the Trapeze
  • Exit Checklist for Lay Leaders
  • Exit Checklist for Clergy

I commend the Parable of the Trapeze to everyone who is on the verge of change. This little gem isn’t just about clergy and parish transitions – it’s one page of deep insight about needing to let go of one secure bar and reach out over the void to grab the next. It’s about “turning the fear of transformation into the transformation of fear.“

I hope you find these resources and others helpful as you navigate the leadership challenges in your congregation. If there is something you need that you can’t find on ECF Vital Practices, let us know. The next time a parish leader thinks “Yikes, I’m not prepared for this!” we want to point them down the right path and remind them they are part of a wider community with experience and resources to share.