What’s Up with Pastor Todd 2-11-22

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 2-11-22

“I realize that this might seem a little disconcerting. But as I said at the beginning, I’ve found that the most powerful bonds are built when we start with the ending. As your Transitional Senior Minister, I begin with the acknowledgment of impermanence. Every one of us is temporary. It is not up to us to decide how much time we will have. It is up to us to decide how we will use the time we’ve been given. As for me, I vow to make the most of it. What will your promise be? I hope that whatever the future brings, we will face it together.”

I wrote the above words for my column from May 16, 2019–my first “What’s Up” as Transitional Senior Minister at First Congregational Church of Granby. Looking back nearly three years later, it’s easy to see how impermanence has manifested in unforeseen ways. COVID has changed how we do church in ways I never imagined back in 2019. Some of them have been difficult: foregoing in person worship for months at a time has been a particular challenge for me. Some of them have been really great. COVID has made us more visible and engaged in our community. It also jump-started our online ministry. We even welcomed 7 new members during the heart of the pandemic. It’s easy to think of impermanence in terms of loss; however, impermanence is also what creates the space for new things to emerge. The Apostle Paul wrote, “. . . to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish far more than we could ask or imagine.” Through all of the coming and going of impermanence the One at work within us has accomplished things I never imagined, for example, Granby Racial Reconciliation. I had no idea I would have the opportunity to be a part of founding a new racial justice organization in town. Impermanence confronts us with the difficult work of letting go. It also carries within it the promise of new things to come.

At our Deacons meeting this month we took some time to reflect on what God has done among us. “Reaching out in new ways” was at the top of nearly everyone’s list. Another mentioned that “vitality has real meaning for us” as a church. Another mentioned TGIF social gatherings when we could just enjoy each other’s company. Another mentioned a shift in perspective so that we began to consider how newcomers experience our church and how we might do things like worship with first time guests in mind. We learned to question what we are doing as a church and why we are doing it. We’re no longer looking for people to come to us; rather, we are going out into the community and meeting people where they are. We have new awareness of the experience and history of marginalized groups, particularly Native Americans and African Americans, and how that awareness changes what we do as Christians. Weekly Bible study, screens and other technology in worship, staying together and staying safe through a pandemic. These are all accomplishments to celebrate. 

Just as each new beginning starts with an ending, so too each ending carries within it the promise of new beginnings. Our transition work is coming to a close. As we look back at how far we’ve come we can look forward to what God has in store. As the Prophet Jeremiah wrote, “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope” (Jer. 29:11).

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 8-19-18

Liv (wearing her Occidental College hat) and me cheering on the Hartford Yardgoats

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 8-19-18

We’ve been preparing all summer. Perhaps even longer than that: since high school graduation, or maybe a year ago when Olivia and I flew to LA to visit Occidental College. We could dial it back even further: to the moment I first met newborn Olivia, held her, and knew in my heart that one day life would ask me to let her go. 

Tomorrow Nicole–my wife, Olivia’s mom–will fly with Liv to LA and move her into her freshman dorm. A couple weeks from now Nicole and I will move Liv’s older sister, Fiona, to Williams’ College for her senior year. Though it’s been happening in stages, the nest continues to empty.

Moving one’s youngest to LA to begin college is both a “change” and a “transition.” Transition and change are related but different concepts. In his book Managing Transitions, William Bridges writes, “It isn’t the changes that do you in, it’s the transitions.” Bridges defines “change” as “situational” and “transition” as “psychological.”

Change is starting a new job, moving to a new location, receiving a new diagnosis, welcoming a new family member, saying goodbye. Change can be big or small, welcome or unwelcome, pleasant or unpleasant. Change is the nature of reality. Change just is.

Transition, according to Bridges, “is a three-phase process that people go through as they internalize and come to terms with the details of the new situation that the change brings about.” Change is moving Olivia to LA. Transition is coming to terms with a new identity: empty nester. The three phase process is 1) ending/losing/letting go, 2) “the neutral zone (chaos),” and 3) new beginning.

Change and transition happen on a personal level. They also happen in organizations. As your transitional minister, it is my job to help FCC Granby identify the kinds of changes our situation is calling for and then lead a transition through the three phases: ending, chaos, new beginning. 

The distinction between change and transition is key because without that understanding, what most churches do is rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic. They change their by-laws so that “committees” are now called “ministry teams.” They use different words for Communion or change the words of familiar hymns. They develop new programs that focus on the same people. They may even merge with another congregation but because there is no process of transition, the newly merged congregation just ends up being a dying, mashed up, grumpy repeat of the old ones. In dying churches there is often a ton of change but none that leads to a fundamentally new sense of purpose and identity. For that, one needs to go through transition.

As your transitional minister, I am not particularly focused on surface level change. Is whether we sing the Doxology following the offering or some other reponse really going to turn this church around? Is focusing on food insecurity instead of homelessness really going to be the key to a sustainable future? Is changing the words to Communion suddenly going to bring in the crowds? Usually when someone gives me permission to change something, it’s surface change. However, when I change something and the congregation says, “Change back,” then I know we’re into transition territory because what we resist is not “change” per se, but change that results in loss of some kind, exactly the kind of loss that is the beginning of transition.