What’s Up with Pastor Todd 8-27-19
Part of transition work is working with staff transitions. In congregational life, staff, including clergy, come and go for all kinds of reasons. What is true for us on a personal level is also true on a professional level: none of us is permanent. Everyone, no matter what their title or role, is temporary. Staff relocate. They take other jobs. They resign to attend to personal or family matters. Sometimes the congregation has to reduce its staff because of finances. Sometimes the staffing needs of the congregation have changed because the congregation has changed. Sometimes staff that were hired to “maintain” the congregation “as it is” do not have the skills to engage in a transition process. Sometimes there are performance issues. Sometimes staff retire. These transitions are almost always messy, but they create opportunities for congregations to reflect on mission, vision, and values. What do we really want? Is what we’re doing now actually going to get us there?
At FCC Granby we are navigating two staff transitions. In December 2018, Rev. Dr. Ginny McDaniel retired after serving seven years as Senior Minister. This past Sunday, Rev. Rebecca Brown retired after serving four years as Minister for Children and Youth. Each minister has been honored by the congregation for her service. Each minister has made a lasting difference for the good of the congregation. We are grateful for who they are and what they’ve done. Ginny has gone through a process of leave-taking following the United Church of Christ “Ethical Guidelines for Ministers Departing from Congregations.” Rebecca is currently in that process. It is a multi-layered process that involves public liturgy, compiling and handing over work product (such as lists of pastoral needs, event calendars, contact information, meeting notes, etc), participating in an exit interview, dealing with the administrative details of changing employment status with the denomination. All of these are steps in a larger transition that involves a change in identity: from pastor to former pastor. This change in identity is attended by a shift in how former pastor and former congregation relate to each other. The “Ethical Guidelines” are intended to ensure that this transition happens and that it happens in a healthy way.
Here’s a refresher on transition and change: transition and change are different. Change is situational. Transition is psychological. Change is some new guy is doing the preaching now. Transition is letting go of one pastoral relationship and building another. William Bridges in his book Managing Transitions writes, “It’s not the change that will do you in, it’s the transition.” Transition “is a three-phase process (letting go, chaos, new beginning) that people go through as they internalize and come to terms with the details of the new situation that the change brings about.” As a congregation, we are definitely still “internalizing” and “coming to terms with the details” of shifting from a settled minister to transitional minister, from a minister for youth and children to a new staffing configuration for Christian Education which may, at some point, involve a partnership with South Church.
On some level, for each of us, transition involves building a new identity. For example, I am no longer the Transitional Senior Minister of FCC Stamford. As much as I love the people there, I’ve had to let those relationships go so that I can be fully present to my new call as Transitional Senior Minister of FCC Granby. Without letting go, there is no new beginning. In a similar way the members of FCC Granby are no longer Ginny’s or Rebecca’s parishioners and Ginny and Rebecca are no longer FCC Granby’s pastors. It’s not that those relationships are ended. Cut off is rarely helpful. But there needs to be a release. I’m a Gen-Xer, so my popular culture reference for this is Sting’s song, “If you love somebody, set them free.”
It’s natural for this shift in identity to generate resistance, but that’s the reality of congregational life. Identity shifts also generate grief to which we all need to tend carefully. Ginny’s circumstance is special given her health circumstance. Linda Betsch will be coordinating care for her. But the fact remains: none of us is permanent; everyone is temporary. Which makes our time together all the more precious. Now, for better or for worse, we belong together–transitional minister and congregation. Let’s make the most of the time we have. Time passes swiftly. Opportunity is lost. And God has big plans for us.