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

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