Monday, November 26, 2012

The Way of Things

In death and in grief, we do not so much need protection from painful experience as we need the boldness to face it. If we choose love, we must also have the courage to grieve. - Roy M. Oswald, Running Through the Thistles

On November 17th, Michigan played its last home game of 2012. Their season had a few more games to play, namely the annual showdown with Ohio State and the eventual bowl game they'd already secured for themselves, details to be announced.

The game itself wasn't really notable or headline-grabbing. They played a hapless Iowa team that had experienced an incredible amount of bad luck with injuries and was perhaps just trying to get to the offseason and begin thinking about next year. The bigger story was that it was Senior Day: a chance to recognize and say thank you to the graduating class as they took the field at the Big House one last time.

Atop the list of seniors to be recognized was one Denard Robinson, arguably one of the most exciting players ever to wear the winged helmet. He'd been recruited under the previous coaching regime and had begun turning heads as he matured, setting and breaking record after record for quarterbacks both at the university and at least sniffing the all-time NCAA rushing record for quarterbacks before a nerve injury knocked him out of the game against Nebraska and kept him out for weeks after.

Denard, the face of the program. Denard, one of the players who stayed during the coaching transition. Denard, the guy who if you gave him space could excite you and amaze you, but also at times frustrate you. Denard, who is graduating and will not play as an active member of the roster at Michigan Stadium again.

This is the way of things. We may tell ourselves that, but we may not like it. Players get four years of eligible playing time and then they move on, either through the NFL draft or graduation. New players who will help create new memories and lead the team into the future will come in and replace them, even though it won't be like it was.

This happens. This is how it is. Having to say goodbye is never easy, even though we know we have to.

Last week, I announced to my church that I'll be leaving in mid-February. I've accepted a call to another pastorate, which I will begin after that point. It will be a great new opportunity for ministry and the new church seems to be excited about things, so that's all well and good. But in the meantime, there will need to be a time of closure where I am.

I was hoping that I'd be able to lay low last week with it being Thanksgiving and all, but I wasn't allowed. Between the ecumenical Thanksgiving service and a well-loved member of the church and community passing away, I was going to have to begin my goodbyes in short order. As parishioners received the letter that I'd sent to them notifying them of my intentions, there of course was desire to acknowledge it and to express sadness and well-wishes as we move into this transition time.

These conversations made things real for me: these families and individuals whom I'd come to know and love over the course of eight years are now facing a future without me, and I without them. More than one has said, "I knew this day would come eventually...I just didn't want it to." And with each time, my heart breaks a little more.

I tell myself that this is the way of things; a way that I've known my whole life. Pastors come and go. They stay for three or four or five years on average, and the ones fortunate enough to have a good, stimulating, creative relationship with their churches (or the ones who hang on for too long) stay longer. But eventually, they still leave.

Deep down, both sides know that this is how it is. We should be used to it, but we never really become so. I quite clearly remember how I've reacted to news of transition in my family growing up several times: it wasn't pretty. My heart broke then as it has now, except I was younger then and there was more yelling and crying involved.

Not too long ago, I was having a conversation with a colleague about my discernment, and at one point she asked, "Wait...didn't you lead a workshop on longer pastorates at the 2030 gathering?" The pointing out of this irony was not a new revelation to me. Considering that four years is the average length of pastorates in mainline churches, eight years could be considered a longer pastorate. I was surprised the moment that I admitted to myself that it should be time to search.

I don't want to go on about that sort of thing here, because certain things just don't seem like appropriate blog material, particularly when it's so fresh. My point is that the Spirit often throws curveballs and you have to take the pitches thrown to you.

And so, after eight years, I begin again, and this church begins again.

A new pastor who will help create new memories and lead the church into the future will come in and replace me, even though it won't be like it was. I will in turn help create new memories and lead another church in the future, even though it won't be like it was.

This happens. This is how it is.

Having to say goodbye is never easy, even though we know we have to.