leaving Indivisible Kentucky.

21 Sep

It is with deep sadness that I announce that I am severing my ties with Indivisible Kentucky.

Like many of you, I was distressed at the outcome of the November election. It was clear to me that I had to act, particularly since I live in the home state of Mitch McConnell. When I read the Indivisible Guide in mid-December, I thought I had found a format that might work and began contacting the connections I had made in the social justice community. What appealed to me, in particular, was the section on Diversity and Advocacy:

As you conduct outreach and expand, keep in mind that we’re all stronger if we represent a diverse set of voices and perspectives, and especially when we center the voices of those who are most affected by Trump’s agenda. So please make a conscious effort to reach out to a diverse group of people as you build out your group. Women, members of immigrant, Muslim, African American, Latinx, and LGBTQ communities, as well as people of different incomes and education levels, health and disability statuses, and ages, are some examples of those whose engagement and leadership are especially valuable and needed in this work. This can also be particularly meaningful for those of us who identify across these categories. Resistance needs solidarity to succeed.

My vision was to use the guide to create an intentionally multi-racial, multi-cultural, truly diverse organization in Louisville that would unite people to hold Mitch McConnell (in particular) accountable to all the people.

Along the way, we did a lot of good work. We were first on the scene with regular rallies outside Mitch McConnell’s office. We worked with others in the community to pull together a rally when VP Pence came to town, and then turned around and did it again with Trump did two weeks later. We had Rep. Yarmuth attend a packed meeting. Over 3000 follow the organization on social media.

Unfortunately, however, my vision was not to be. With primarily white, middle-class, middle-aged people in leadership, the people of color who joined us were marginalized and tokenized. We did not center their voices or experiences. Time and again we proved ourselves to be the white moderate progressives who tone-police by telling those who are marginalized to not be so angry, or to just wait, or to follow our tactics. We were patronizing. We did not have enough voices at the table to help us make good decisions in what messaging to use. In short, we were bad allies.

Though we tried to educate ourselves and our followers – through getting online training and having a leadership retreat that focused on ways that we unintentionally participate in and reinforce oppressions like white supremacy and misogyny – it was not sufficient. Perhaps it was because the message of Indivisible appeals primarily to new, white activists who are not fluent in the languages of oppression and intersectionality. Perhaps it was because we were all volunteers and did not have the time or energy to make the needed course corrections. Certainly, it was in part because the crises from the Republican administration kept coming, which kept pushing our education pieces to the back burner as we felt we needed to respond to one crisis, then another, and another, in a never-ending flow of disgusting material coming from Washington. It is difficult, if not impossible, to build a bicycle while also riding it.

Regardless of the reasons, it has become clear to me that I have been unable to lead Indivisible Kentucky, the organization which I co-founded, into the organization I envisioned. Though I am deeply grateful for all those who have dedicated their time and energy towards the ideals of the organization, I regret that it has divided, rather than united and find I can no longer be a part of it.

Kentucky’s pension crisis.

1 Aug

I don’t normally share the papers I write for my graduate studies on this blog, but I think this one is pretty important – particularly for those of us who live in Kentucky.  I wrote this paper as my final for my Public Finance class. Here is the introduction, or click here to download the entire pdf.

A government makes promises to the public and to its employees, but what happens if the government finds itself unable to keep those promises? A private company can go bankrupt, but as of today, states are not allowed to do that.[1] So what options does a state have when they become financially unsustainable? Government intervention in the private market is often needed when there is a market failure. What happens when the government upsets, rather than stabilizes, the economy?

These are the issues facing the Commonwealth of Kentucky right now. The state’s pension system suffers from years of chronic underfunding[2] and they now find themselves billions of dollars shy of what will be needed in the near future. The working number for how much the state owes its pension system has been $37 billion.[3] However, a Moody’s report issued on July 21, 2017 doubled that number to $70 billion in unfunded pension liabilities[4]. To put that in context, the amount the state of Kentucky owes its worker’s pension funds is more than seven times the Commonwealth’s entire $10 billion annual General Fund budget.[5]

Who is this money owed to? More than 8% of the Commonwealth’s population: over 360,000 Kentuckians,[6] including firefighters, police, teachers, city, state employees, transportation employees, social workers, mental health workers, university employees,[7] are counting on these benefits for their future financial security.

Figure 1 [10]

A new study shows that Kentucky’s pension system is one of the most poorly funded in the nation and the Commonwealth is doing the worst at paying off its pension debt.[8] Based on plan information reported through the end of fiscal 2015, the median funded ratio across state plans was 74.6%, but for Kentucky, the funded ratio was only 37.4% (based on earlier S&P numbers), as shown in Figure 1. [9]

Because of the magnitude of the debt and the size of the Commonwealth’s budget, this trend will be difficult to change. But without drastic change, the state will continue to fall behind faster than any other state.[11]

So how did this financial disaster come about? Was it preventable? What are the steps the Commonwealth might take to address it? As Governor Matt Bevin considers calling a special legislative session[12] to address this crisis (and a recently discovered budget deficit from 2016-2017 fiscal year)[13] these are some questions citizens of the Commonwealth might be asking and that are addressed in the following sections of this paper. There have been many books and articles about this issue, this paper hopes to present an easily digestible overview of the various issues and potential paths out of financial collapse that the Commonwealth might take to right its course. Let’s begin with a more in-depth overview of the history: How did Kentucky get into this mess?

To read the whole paper, download it here.

 

[1] John Mauldin, “Don’t Be So Sure That States Can’t Go Bankrupt,” Forbes, Jul 28, 2016, https://www.forbes.com/sites/johnmauldin/2016/07/28/dont-be-so-sure-that-states-cant-go-bankrupt/#accda622f2d4, (accessed July 27, 2017).

[2] Ben Walsh and Travis Waldron, “Kentucky’s Hedge Funder Governor Keeps State Money In Secretive Hedge Funds,” HuffPost, June 24, 2017, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/matt-bevin-kentucky-pensions_us_594bf56ce4b0a3a837be3d56, (accessed July 27, 2017).

[3] Tom Loftus, “Pension costs just jumped for Kentucky’s school districts, local governments,” Courier-Journal, July 12, 2017, http://www.courier-journal.com/story/news/politics/2017/07/12/pension-costs-just-jumped-kentuckys-school-districts-local-governments/467408001/, (accessed July 27, 2017).

[4] Moody’s Investors Service, “Kentucky (Commonwealth of) Update – Moody’s downgrades Kentucky to Aa3; outlook stable,” (July 20, 2017): 5.

[5] William M. Landrum III, Edgar C. Ross and Donald Sweasy, “Commonwealth of Kentucky Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for the Fiscal Year Ended June 30, 2015,” 141, http://finance.ky.gov/Office%20of%20the%20Controller/2015CAFR.pdf (accessed July 27, 2017).

[6] “Kentucky’s Pension Crisis – Frequently Asked Questions,” (March 2016): 1, https://kypensioncrisisdotcom.files.wordpress.com/2016/03/pension-faq.pdf, (accessed July 27, 2017).

[7] Tom Loftus, “Don’t cut our pensions amid crisis, public workers tell Kentucky board,” Courier-Journal, June 26, 2017, http://www.courier-journal.com/story/news/politics/2017/06/26/stakeholders-give-their-views-pension-reforms/421347001/, (accessed July 27, 2017).

[8] Ryland Barton, “Kentucky’s Pensions Are Worst-Funded In U.S., Study Shows,” WFPL, September 15, 2016, http://wfpl.org/studies-show-kentuckys-state-pensions-worst-in-nation/, (accessed July 27, 2017).

[9] Sussan S. Corson, “U.S. State Pensions: Weak Market Returns Will Contribute To Rise In Expense,” Standards and Poor, (September 12, 2016): 7, http://www.nasra.org/files/Topical%20Reports/Credit%20Effects/SPGlobalstates1609.pdf, (accessed July 27, 2017).

[10] ibid.

[11] Barton, “Kentucky’s Pensions Are Worst-Funded In U.S., Study Shows.”

[12] A special session would cost more than $63,000 a day, according to the Legislative Research Commission.

[13] Tom Loftus, “Can public pension benefits be cut? Kentucky officials looking into it,” Courier-Journal, July 14, 2017, http://www.courier-journal.com/story/news/politics/2017/07/14/can-public-pension-benefits-cut-kentucky-officials-looking-into/434944001/, (accessed on July 27, 2017).

faith on a plane.

25 May

Talking with a colleague recently, he asked about the increased travel I am doing as a Congregational Life Consultant for the Southern Region of the Unitarian Universalist Association. I told him I enjoyed it, and that I had worked out most of the details – what processes work for me, what hotel chains I like, when to fly. At that last point, we talked about how difficult it can be to fly as clergy – as soon as our seatmates ask what we do for a living, it opens all sorts of doors for conversations we may, or may not, want to have.

When I told him that, for the past 9 months, I have been wearing my clerical collar whenever I fly, his face took on a shocked expression. “Why on earth would you do that?” he asked me.

I shared with him that I was bothered by the increasing violence that is occurring on planes, and that I wanted to be prepared to be a force for good if something happened in my presence. I know that people respond differently to me when I wear a collar. If I were to witness something violent on a plane, in a collar I could stand up and be a witness in ways that are more powerful than I could as a mid-40 year old woman. Especially if I then started singing or praying.

I also want people to know that I am a safe person – that I am willing and able to try to de-escalate a situation, or be a good ally if that is needed. So in addition to my collar, I also wear my Black Lives Matter/Pride Flag/World Religions safety-pin (which I wear every day). Needless to say, the combination of my pins with my collar have brought interesting conversations, a few frowns, but mostly I get smiles and “Thank you” comments.

I completely understand why some of my clergy colleagues prefer to travel anonymously. But for me, this public witness is a part of my spiritual practice when I travel. It is a away to claim my religious authority and put my faith in action and declare that I am on the side of the marginalized. As a white minister, I have so much privilege. This feels like a good way to use it. I hope I am never needed in such a way when I travel, but if something does happen, I am ready.

Beyond the Balcony and the Dance Floor

10 May

Originally shared in the Southern Region blog, but I like it so I am sharing it here, too.

It’s been quite a while since I last joined a mosh pit. No, I am not speaking metaphorically (yet). For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, a mosh pit is an area, usually near the stage at a live concert, where people engage in some pretty full-contact dancing – bodies slamming into each other, usually to loud, energetic music. I loved being in the pit when I was younger, but as I was nearing my 30s moshing evolved into people throwing elbows at the faces of other dancers and I decided that I had had enough.

When my spouse recently got us tickets to one of his favorite punk bands from the 70s and 80s, we decided, rather than getting general admission tickets which would put us down on the floor, we wanted to be up on the balcony with secured seats in case we needed to give ourselves a break. It was worth the extra expenditure, but not because of the seats. Instead, I found that I spent nearly as much time watching the dancers on the floor as I did watching the band (who were amazing). And I saw something I’d never noticed before.

There was a group of young adults, slamming away. Old school – no elbows, just running into each other, bumping shoulders. Full-contact but not violent. As I continued to watch, I noticed that there were a few big, older guys around the edge of where the pit had formed. They stood in front of people who didn’t want to be slammed into, protecting them from the dancers and simultaneously allowing the dancers to lose themselves into the abandon of the dance. These guys would also push the dancers back into the pit if they strayed too far, picking them up if they fell down – occasionally even getting the dancers going in a circle pit.

I’d never noticed this role when I had been in the pit in my younger days. I’m not sure if they existed, or if that is a role that has developed over the years as moshing and the pit have evolved. It almost made me wish I was down on the dance floor – these “conductors”, as it were, made the dance floor a safe space not only for the concert-goers who didn’t wish to be bumped into, but for the young people in the pit as well.

So now let’s expand this into metaphor. Business and leadership guru Ronald Heifetz often refers to the concept of “getting on the balcony” when he talks about leadership. He talks about how our view and experience of something is different depending on whether we are on the dance floor, or if we are able to get up on the balcony. From the dance floor, there is just the music and the dancers, but from the balcony we can see all sorts of patterns. In Leadership On the Line, he writes “The only way you can gain both a clearer view of reality and some perspective on the bigger picture is by distancing yourself from the fray [by getting up on the balcony]…[but] if you want to affect what is happening, you must return to the dance floor.” The magic spot is the place of balance, going back and forth between the two, using our experiences on one to shape the other.

In leadership development, we often encourage those in leadership to “get up on the balcony” – particularly when there is a situation that is fraught with conflict. Remove yourself from reactivity, from the heat of the moment, and get up to the balcony and watch the patterns, the process. Then you can go back down to the dance floor with greater clarity about a situation.

But after my experience at the concert, I’m going to add a new role when I talk about the balcony and the dance floor -“Floor Conductor” – for those times when we are on the dance floor and see that space needs to be made, both for people who need to dance a bit more exuberantly than others, and for those who just want to enjoy the music. Floor conductors can help ensure that all participants are able to dance and participate the way they want, and need to, safely.

So get up on the balcony when you want a view of the big picture and the patterns that you can’t see from the floor. Go to the dance floor when you want to impact a situation beyond making observations about it. And be a floor conductor when you want to help create a safe place where all can dance however they choose.

safety, comfort, law and order.

22 Apr

As conversations around racial justice and white supremacy (both covert and overt) dominate our culture and my faith tradition, I have found myself thinking about the difference between safety and comfort.

In the past few months, I have been approached by numerous white people who want to share with me their discomfort over something a black or brown person has shared, usually (but not only) on the topic of police violence. “Is this a safe place for ME?” the white people are usually asking, even if there are only a few people of color in the room.

When white people do this, we put our own comfort ahead of the safety of people of color.

A while ago, Reading While White had a great blog post about this:

let’s stop worrying so much about creating comfortable spaces and worry more about whether our spaces are truly safe for all….creating a space that is truly safe for people of color and First/Native Nations people often necessitates making that space uncomfortable for White people.

Read the whole post. It’s a quick, powerful read.

What I really want to share with you today, however, is a connection to safety and comfort that I made while reading Chris Hayes’ new book A Colony in a Nation. Hayes uses his experience in Ferguson to discuss the concept of the second part of the phrase “Law and Order.” In Ferguson, Hayes experienced no law breaking, but the people in the street, backing up traffic, making a lot of noise, created a lot of disorder. Disorder that white people found uncomfortable. Worthy of having a police presence. Even though there was nothing unlawful happening where he was.

Hayes writes that over the 50 years since Nixon referred to black Americans as “a colony in a nation,” we have built just that. We have created “a territory that isn’t actually free. A place controlled from outside rather than within. A place where the mechanisms of representation don’t work enough to give citizens a sense of ownership over their own government. A place where law is a tool of control rather than than a foundation for prosperity. A political regime like the one our Founders inherited and rejected. An order they spilled their blood to defeat.

He says that in the Nation, which is made up of white people, “there is law; in the Colony there is only a concern with order. In the Nation you have rights; in the Colony you have commands. In the Nation, you are innocent until proven guilty; in the Colony, you are born guilty.”

Law and order are not the same thing.

Safety and comfort are not the same thing.

May our desire for order not outweigh our need for justice for people of color.

May our desire for comfort not outweigh the need for safety for people of color.

As we confront systems of oppression, I encourage those of us who are white to step into the discomfort, step into the disorderliness. Because it is there that we will begin to make progress.

sharing stories.

30 Mar

I had to laugh when my Public Management professor was giving me feedback on a recent paper. “The content is good, but you sure use a lot of words!” Yup. I do. Not just because I’m used to writing sermons, but because I’m used to writing in such a way as to tell a story. Not because I use metaphors – I wish I was more adept at that – but because when I write I like to have a beginning that flows into the middle and then comes to a conclusion that makes perfect sense given all that has already been shared. Apparently, this is not how public managers generally write.

His comments got me thinking about why I write this way. I think it is because I am so curious about the whos/whats/whys/wheres/hows that I end up incorporating that sort of detail when I write. And because personally, when I read someone else’s narrative, this sort of flow keeps me engaged, nodding my head. I get it better.

I remember hearing a piece on This American Life about how canvassers, going door to door in California to change minds about Proposition 8, were able to do so by having lengthy conversations with the people who opened their doors. Conversations where they shared their stories. The evidence that TAL quoted has been disputed and retracted, but based on my own experience, I think there is a lot of truth here: When we listen to someone’s story, it has the capacity to change our hearts, and maybe even our minds, in a way that listening to a recitation of facts does not.

I was thinking about this a recently when I attended one of Donald Trump’s rallies here in Louisville. The place was packed. I went inside with a few clergy friends of mine, in collars and stoles, because I had heard it was a mad free-for-all of violence and hate and I thought we might be able to be a calming presence.

But where we were in the arena, it was all families. With babies, toddlers, children of all ages. They were excited to see the President. I don’t even know how many of them were Trump supporters (many of them left 5 minutes after he started speaking). I was curious – what were their stories? Why had they come? It was not at all what I was expecting.

I realized, too, that listening to their stories wouldn’t only satisfy my curiosity, it could also be a good strategic move. If I know what motivates someone, then I am more able to speak in such a way that they will hear. I wondered what would have happened if I had had time to listen to the stories of some of those families, and if they could have heard the stories of some of my compatriots outside at the protest. How might that experience have changed us?

Sharing stories, our own stories, helps us understand each other. It gives context to dry demographic details and helps us understand each other. It allows us to deepen our empathy for one another. It gives us a chance to experience someone else’s perspective, at least for a short while.

I wish we had more opportunities for such sharing.

Leaving a Congregation: Epilogue.

3 Jan

This is the seventh and final part in a multi-part blog series about leaving the congregation I served.

goodbye

On my last day at the congregation, I packed up my last bags, looked around one final time, and walked out the door with my family.  Never an after-church napper, when we got home that day I crashed on the couch.

I thought that would be the end. I had given myself a week between positions, mostly to catch up on stuff around the house. I knew I would still have some processing to do but there were still elements of it that surprised me nonetheless.

I was surprised by how different my facebook feed looked. Over 100 congregants had friended me over the years. Though I had chosen not to unfriend them, I put them all on restricted status so that they would only see my public posts, and I unfollowed them so they would no longer show up in my newsfeed. I never truly understood how lonely ministry is until I saw my newsfeed over the next few days after I left, for it was filled with updates from people I hardly knew.

I also found myself struggling with my role in the larger community. Prior to leaving, I had been consulted by both media and justice organizations asking for my opinion or involvement on a variety of topics. Because I’ve stayed in town, I have realized that it is better for me to get involved in new social justice organizations so that I can create a new role for myself in these regards.

I have also realized that my departure from the congregation while still staying in town is much more difficult for the congregants at the church I served than it is for me. I am easily able to make small-talk when our paths cross, but I know it is hard for them to not fill me in on the latest at church and in their own lives. They struggle to maintain boundaries and this means they err on the side of not saying much and not asking me questions about how I am doing.  This is probably exacerbated by the fact that they will be without a minister for several more months.

But the most surprising struggle for me is in my identity. I am no longer the minister of a congregation. For some people, this seems to mean that I am no longer a minister. But I am still a minister, even if I don’t fit into an easily identifiable box the way I used to. This gives me sympathy for the rest of you community ministers out there – I frequently find myself explaining to people that I am still a minister, even though I no longer serve a single congregation.

Two months after I have officially left, I continue to be surprised by how my leaving process progresses internally. This blog has been in process, in various stages and pieces, for the past four months. I started it two months before I left. I’ve decided that, though my process may continue, the blog needs to end and be published.

The changes in myself in these past four months have been intense. It has been a rollercoaster of emotions. And, at the same time, I am blissfully happy in my new vocation. I know that it was time for me to leave, as emotional as the process was.  I am not sure whether I left a year too early, or a year too late. Or maybe, possibly, I hit it at just the right moment.

If you are leaving, or are contemplating leaving the church you serve, you have my love and my sympathy. I can tell  you that it will teach you a lot about yourself. And that, if you are in a situation where you are able to be present to the bitter and to the sweet, it can be a gift both to your ministry and to the church you serve. May you and your congregants, present, past and future, be so blessed.

Stage 4: Fallout/Resolution.

3 Jan

This is the sixth part in a multi-part blog series about leaving the congregation I served.

goodbye

In the last six weeks of my ministry with the congregation, all of us seemed better able to hold the duality of being both excited and sad at a same time. The feelings were bittersweet – something to be cherished.

Soon after the announcement of my departure, I had sent an email to every member and friend inviting them to schedule time to meet with me. Nearly a third of the congregation did so.  In those final weeks, I no longer had two jobs (starting the church year and saying goodbye) – I just had one.

Sometimes my meetings with people were long – pushing an hour.  Sometimes they were short – 10 or 15 minutes. Sometimes we talked about all we had done together. Other times we talked about our hopes for the future.  Sometimes they had questions for me. Other times they talked, and talked, and talked, while I sat and just listened. Sometimes there were tears. There were almost always hugs.

I was surprised that, even a week before my departure, some people were just finding out. It had been in every order of service, it had been announced at the pulpit multiple times, it was in the newsletters, and had been blasted out in email. But there were still a few people, usually only peripherally connected, who were late at hearing about it. The closer it came to my last day, the more upset people would be that they were just learning about my departure. I’m not sure what we could have done to prevent this, but it was difficult nonetheless.

In between meeting with people, everything I did was in preparation for my departure.  I documented passwords, procedures, and points of information that others would need to know. I transitioned all the technology that my account “owned” to other people (google groups, yahoo groups, calendars, the church facebook group, etc). I went through my own facebook page and started shifting congregants to “Restricted” status (meaning they would only see my public posts) and unfollowing them (so that I would no longer see their posts).

I changed my plans for Sunday services. I shifted my second-to-last sermon from a sermon on the ministry theme for the month to a question box service. In part, this was to respond to the questions I knew people still had for me. In part, it was self-preservation – I did not have the emotional energy for a sermon on “Reason”.

Throughout my ministry, I had always had firm boundaries on my Sundays off: I only attended if my children were participating in the service.  In the last month, on the Sundays I had “off” I asked the speaker if they would like me to be liturgist. They all said yes.  Unlike the situation most ministers will find themselves in when they leave a church, I knew that the congregation would be lay-led for up to 9 months before the interim minister arrived, so this was helpful to them. And it was helpful to me to be able to participate in worship without the heavy lifting of sermon-writing. It was part of saying goodbye.

img_5722My last sermon was emotional. The Worship Associates had predicted that and put tissue boxes at the front of the sanctuary and throughout the seats – easily accessible to all of us.

It was difficult for me to be present in the moment. I was afraid that I would burst into uncontrollable tears, so I put funny little emoji’s into emotionally heightened portions of my text so that I would have that half-second of wondering “What the heck is that?”  – just enough time to stave off great heaving sobs by putting me back into my frontal cortex.

img_3092There were several sweet surprises during the service: gifts that were lovingly explained and given. I took a panorama picture from the pulpit.  The receiving line at the end of the service was longer than ever. There was cake – someone saved me a few pieces when they realized I might not make it to the social hall in time. There were hugs.

I packed up my last bags, looked around one final time, and walked out the door with my family.  Never an after-church napper, when we got home that day I crashed on the couch.

go to Epilogue: Having Left

Stage 3: Blaming.

3 Jan

This is the fifth part in a multi-part blog series about leaving the congregation I served.

goodbyeLeaving the church was exhausting. I was constantly both excited about the upcoming transition and sad about leaving behind people I loved.  I know myself well enough to know that if I am  constantly vulnerable and exhausted, I am more likely fall back into my own bad habits, including bad habits around leaving.

In CPE many years ago, I learned that I hate long goodbyes. If they are quick, I can process my feelings and move on. But when they are longer, I don’t like to sit with those uncomfortable feelings. In these situations, my old pattern of behavior is to find fault in every little thing the other party does; I nitpick. Doing this makes it easier for me to leave because, for me, anger is a much more comfortable feeling than the pain that comes from sadness.

I knew I didn’t want to nitpick and blame as I was leaving the congregation, which meant I had to allow myself to feel the pain. This meant I had to be strong and healthy enough to do so – to sit both my own and the pain of others – some of whom were blaming me.

One of the areas that caused pain to congregants was the sermon I had done in January where I had recommitted to the congregation and wondered what the next seven years would bring.  Since this sermon was a recurring source of pain as I was saying goodbye to people, I ended up writing a newsletter column about what was going on with me at the time.

There are only two things I would change about my leaving process: first, I would leave during the regular transition cycle (which unfortunately wasn’t an option) and second, I would not have given this January sermon. 

A tipping point came six weeks before my last day. The Board held a leadership retreat and I was invited to come and lead the retreat for the last hour. During that hour, I presented suggestions for how the leadership of the congregation might turn this transition into an opportunity. I utilized a paper I had written for my “Strategic Human Resource Management in Nonprofits” class about executive transition, my understanding of the history of the congregation, and my own hopes and dreams for them as I outlined 3 pitfalls they would want to avoid, and my suggestions for how to best make use of this opportunity.

At the end of that hour, all of us were in a new place. The leadership understood in a new, visceral way that this vocation change of mine (from parish ministry to denominational/community ministry) was not about them but was about how I was called to serve our faith.  They were excited about what the future might hold – for me, and for the congregation. I walked away feeling proud, and hopeful.

In some other traditions, the standard amount of notification for a minister ending a settlement is six weeks. In the Unitarian Universalist tradition, it is basically twice that: 90 days. When I first gave notice, I lamented how long that is – it seemed excessive. However, this retreat came right smack in the middle – the day before what would have been my last day in another tradition. It was at this point that I began to appreciate the wisdom of the extra time that Unitarian Universalists work to achieve. Up until the retreat, I had been all business – getting things done, passing on information, coming to terms with my own feelings. But after the retreat, right at the 6 week point, all of us seemed more comfortable holding the duality of being both excited and sad at the same time. Rather than being overwhelmed, the experience became bittersweet – something to be cherished.

go to Stage 4: Fallout/Resolution

Stage 2: Drama.

2 Jan

This is the fourth part in a multi-part blog series about leaving the congregation I served.

goodbyeI had thought that breaking the news would be the most difficult part of the leaving process and that things would get easier from there. While I was indeed relieved after having broken the news to the congregation, that was just the beginning of a lengthy and emotional process.

As the news began to settle in, people began to grieve – not only were they losing their minister, but for many of them I was the minister who was supposed to do their childrens’ weddings, maybe even the minister who was supposed to perform their memorial service. It was difficult for them to lose their vision of the future. This is where Thistles and the Berry Street Essay were the most helpful – in dealing with people’s grief.  It was indeed as though I were dying to them.

I repeatedly normalized their feelings. I told people it was okay to feel grief, to feel anger. And to feel excitement and wonder at what was to come.  The temptation was to try to problem solve with them, to try to fix their feelings and my own, but I knew I could not do that.  So I sat with them.

At the same time, the church year was just getting started. I felt like I had two jobs: getting going for the fall (with water communion, RE startup, all the normal church-year busy-ness) and, at the same time, leaving.

I scheduled an open house at my home, just for church members. I also noticed that people were not reaching out to meet with me the way I thought they would so I sent out an email to every member (and called those without email):

Hi!

I was wondering if you might want to meet with me before I leave First U on October 23 – maybe to talk about future plans for the church (any hopes or fears you might have), to hear more about my plans, or maybe just to check-in.

Towards these ends, I am scheduling 30 and 60 minute visits (daytime or evening) with First U folks throughout October.

If you would like to schedule something, let me know what works for you!

Blessings,
Rev. Dawn

The email also caught some people who hadn’t yet realized I was leaving, so I continued to have to explain the situation and go over the same details repeatedly. I was also amazed at the people who wanted to meet with me – some new members, some visitors, some long-time members who said “I always meant to sit down with you before now.”   I started spending more time in the office, available for drop-in visitors – something I had not really been available for before.

It was exhausting.  I began to shift from a time-management perspective to an energy-management one: I had to prioritize leaving, but I could only spend so much of my energy on it without feeling drained. I knew I didn’t want to feel too drained because that would increase the vulnerability hangovers that I was feeling each night. And I know myself well enough to know that in that vulnerable, exhausted state, I would more than likely fall back into my own bad habits around leaving. Namely: that I would begin to get angry at people in order to make saying good-bye easier.

go to Stage 3: Blaming

%d bloggers like this: