November 30, 2011

Leaving is Lonely

Shakespeare was right: Parting is such sweet sorrow.

We are in the midst of these dueling emotions. Christmas Day will be the last service at our current churches. Three weeks later, we begin a new call with a new congregation.

And we’re excited. The new church has lots of children and some amazing programs. The people are energized about mission and passionate about community. The location is two hours nearer to my side of the family. And after six years of telecommuting with a weekly (or more) 2 ½-hour drive, I’ll be three miles from the diocesan office.

God is good.

But as with most changes in life, our anticipation for the new is tinged with sadness as we leave the old. 

For six years, we have been a part of this community. We’ve wept with their losses and toasted the celebrations. We’ve scrubbed pots and pans after the spaghetti dinners and laced garland around the pews. Our children have climbed into their laps and colored pictures for their refrigerators. 

But announcing that we’re leaving has summoned all kinds of emotions. One congregation immediately began preparations for a rockin’ goodbye party. They are sad. This place had been in a downward spiral, and the people had lost their confidence and community. But over the past few years, they’ve begun to believe in themselves again. They’ve taken on new projects and listened to the movement of the Holy Spirit among them. They will miss their priest, but they’re ready to tackle the future. 

The other congregation is in the jilted phase. They feel rejected. They’re worried about what will happen next. Will they find another priest? Will they be able to afford one? Who will lead them? 

There has been no talk of celebrating our time together because they’re wounded and scared. 

I’m praying this will become a time of self-discovery. They are a congregation full of gifts and talents, but in many cases, they’ve atrophied for lack of use. Like many congregations, they see leadership as the domain of the ordained instead of staking their own claim as people living out the baptismal covenant. 

Experiencing the reactions of the two churches has thrown us into emotional whiplash. The same is true for many of our friends – even the ones who are genuinely excited for us are in the process of disengaging. 

So we’ve hunkered inward, realizing that moving on means leaving behind. And that is sweet sorrow.