This week’s question is from a pastor in transition from her first call to her new congregation. In the midst of her excitement, she identifies another emotion. How might she address that in her own life and with her new congregation?
Dear Matriarchs- I have accepted a new call and I’m moving across states, time zones, etc. The church I’m leaving was my first call and I’ve been here 10 years. We’ve done lots of hard work together and things are going well, but I could feel the urging of the Spirit into a time to move
That being said, it is hard to fully grieve what I’m leaving while I am still here and I worry that I will get caught up in unpacking, settling kids, and the bustle of a new church and new things to learn. Knowing myself, I want to pay attention, in some capacity, to feelings when they are happening.
I am looking forward to the RevGals Big Event in January and the supportive community there, but I am looking for some recommendations for how to actually recognize the grief as it happens in the transition, ways to handle it, and healthy ways to communicate grief to the new congregation- even as I am excited for our new life together.
Since this is the first time I have moved to a new congregation, I’m seeking some best practice wisdom, not around boundaries or packing, but about the care of my own soul so that I can be a good enough pastor to those who have called me.
Thank you- My Heart Will Go On
What an insightful question! Let’s hear from our Matriarchs:
Sharon Mack Temple
I am intrigued by the desire to find “healthy ways to communicate grief to the new congregation.” I think this is so wise and filled with potential for your new ministry season together. Your awareness is a first helpful step: new beginnings are, by definition, born from endings — from death, resurrection. Both you and your new congregation have experienced an ending of a ministry (good, bad, or a mixed bag) — they may have had an interim time (good, bad, or mixed) — and your arrival will be a memory cue for all of you of the losses that have been experienced.
I’m curious about what our other Matriarchs will say about how to handle all of this!
Kelley Wehmeyer Shinn
Blessings on your new journey and call. This is such a bittersweet time for you and your family. As simple as this sounds, be as present as you possibly can be with the congregation you are leaving knowing all the while that you cannot attend to their every need for closure, and knowing that you must care for your family and yourself in this time. The distraction which comes with the practical need to pack is also a gift to you because it forces you to begin to pull away emotionally from your people. And honestly, with every move I made from one congregation to another (my spouse was military, so we moved a lot) I experienced different levels of grief and separation. One thing that consistently helped with goodbyes was a defined time of farewell and recognition of leave-taking. I know, of course, that you will do this (have a closing worship service and some sort of farewell party) but sometimes it is only in that moment that I was ready to “fully grieve,” as you said. I also think it helps to identify the people with whom you were especially close and find a time to privately say goodbye. A Litany of Separation is a very powerful way also to acknowledge emotions as you say goodbye. I will keep you in prayer during this time.
My first pastoral move was not geographic, so I neglected to attend to my own feelings of loss and grief as I adjusted to a significant commute and a larger congregation and a different home schedule. It wasn’t until I made the second move (after serving an interim for 15 months) that grief caught up with me and, as it happened, my daughter. It’s possible to be homesick for what used to be even when we are happy to be in a new place. Holding the tension between what sound like irreconcilable polarities continues to inform my ministry and my life.
The best counsel I can offer is to have and observe your feelings so they don’t end up having you. This might mean setting a time to journal, scheduling FaceTime with a trusted friend, making sure you get enough sleep, and finding a place you love in your new homeland outside the church – a coffee shop, a yarn store or bookstore, the library, a park, or whatever speaks to your interests. Consider developing a short response to yourself when you feel sad – we are all about situational mantras at my house – words that remind you why you made the move and that you’re are not alone in it; the Holy Spirit nudged you and surely has your back.
Blessings on your new ministry!
Thank you, Matriarchs, for your wise counsel and your contribution to this conversation about pastoral transitions.
Let’s hear from other Revs who have navigated the grief that comes with ministry endings. How have you cared for your spirit in the midst of transition emotions? How have you worked through grief with/within your new congregation? Please comment below with your own strategies.
Are you dealing with a ministry challenge? Send your scenario to askthematriarch (at) gmail (dot) com and let us help!
Rev. Sharon M. Temple is a United Church of Christ pastor living in Austin, TX. She is a contributor to the RevGals book There’s a Woman in the Pulpit and blogs erratically at Tidings of Comfort and Joy.
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