“Who are you?” said the Caterpillar….“I – I hardly know, Sir, just at present,” Alice replied rather shyly, “at least I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.”
– Lewis Carroll “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”
Transitions are the natural process of disorientation and reorientation that mark the turning points of the path of growth.
Throughout nature, growth involves periodic acceleration and transformations: Things go slowly for a time and nothing seems to change – until suddenly the eggshell cracks, the branch blossoms, the tadpole’s tail shrinks away, the leaf falls, the bird molts, the hibernation begins.
With us it is the same. Although the signs are less clear than in the world of feather and leaf, the functions of transition are the same.
They are key times in the natural process of self-renewal. There are three main periods in the transition process. The first is an ending. The second is the in-between period when we experience confusion and discomfort. And the last is the time of new beginnings.
In this article I will be sharing ideas about endings. I’ll continue with the in-between time and new beginnings in subsequent articles.
So, every transition begins with an ending. This is said so often it may seem trite but the reality is we have to let go of the old thing before we can pick up the new – not simply outwardly, but inwardly, where we keep our connections to the people and places that act as definitions of who we are.
Generally, we overlook the need for paying attention to endings in an intentional way until many external changes have already happened. In the case of churches some of these external changes could be, for example, the temporary pastor is in place, lay people have stepped up to the plate to carry on particular ministries of the congregation, and the search team has been activated.
Moving through transitions involves developing new skills for negotiating the passage across the “nowhere land” that separates the old situation from the new. But before that can be done, in the life of the church, members and friends of the congregation need to understand how, as a community, endings have typically been handled.
One way to do this is to think back over the endings in your own lives. Go all the way back to your early childhood and recall the earliest experiences that you can which involved endings.
Looking back this way at your experiences of endings, what can you say about your own particular style of bringing situations to a close? Were some of the endings abrupt, denying the impact of the change, or were they slow and gradual? Do you as an individual tend to be active or passive when confronted with and ending?
Now, looking back over your history with the church, consider your experiences of ministers taking their leave and how you as an individual and the church as a whole have dealt with these endings. Did you experience the endings of the following ministers differently? ( Susan Lincoln, Julianne Stokstad, Rodney Yee, Bob Woods.)
Everyone finds endings difficult. However you have learned to deal with them, endings are the first phase of transition. Next time we’ll discuss the “in-between” time moving toward “new beginnings.”