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

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