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