Minister’s Mind: Endings & Healing

This is a hard post to write. I have been privileged to serve Tree of Life since August 2012. It has been a real joy to be part of this congregation’s development at such a pivotal time. Your lay leaders and I have worked hard over the past four years to professionalize the administrative life, enrich the worship life, deepen commitment to shared ministry, and celebrate the arts at Tree of Life.  There have been a lot of changes over these years. And now there will be one more. I have resigned my position as minister here and will be moving on. My last Sunday with you will be October 2nd. After that, I will be away at a Ministers’ meeting and taking the last part of my vacation. My final official day as your minister is October 15th.

When the Board of Trustees asked me to consider resigning, I felt a lot of things. I looked back with joy at so many ways we have experimented and grown: by becoming a teaching congregation to three interns, by creating the Haystacks Coffee House, Cabaret Church, and experimenting with more music in worship with “The Church of____.” At the same time, I felt the tension of differing goals, styles, and approaches to ministry. I talked to a lot of trusted people, including colleagues, Regional and UUA staff, and friends. Having consulted with so many wise souls, I came to the difficult decision to accept life’s invitation to adventure and move on. Tree of Life will continue on as well, working to clarify your mission and envision a future as a liberal spiritual community in McHenry County.

Even though all will be well, there will be a time of adjustment. Change is challenging and the congregation will likely cycle through a lot of emotions. There may be anger, depression, and a feeling of betrayal, or renewed connection, even relief. Sometimes all of these happen at once, and that can get confusing. Especially in groups, different people may be feeling very different things at the same time. At these times, it is important for everyone to find the most compassionate place within themselves and to lead from that place. To trust that everyone is doing their best, and avoid blaming or shaming each other. To remember that even if we disagree on how to do it, everyone is still trying to protect and nurture the congregation they love.

There are some rules about how ministers leave. These rules come from the wisdom of thousands of ministers and congregations with decades of experience. The most important of these is for the minister to really leave–to be thoroughly gone from the life of the congregation–in order for everyone to move on. To this end, I will be ending contact with members and friends of Tree of Life for some time (at least three years, but maybe longer depending on when you find your next minister.) Even for the time I remain in Woodstock, I won’t be talking with, providing pastoral care for, or continuing connections in person or on social media. This will help us all move on and will, in particular, help make room in the congregation for whatever minister may come next.

Our intern ministers, Misha Sanders and Michelle Lattanzio, will also be moving on to other teaching congregations and teaching pastors. They will be immersed in getting to know their new congregations and designing and implementing new leadership projects in those places. They too, will limit contact with members of the Tree of Life community, so that they can engage fully in their new adventures. Their time at Tree of Life is not wasted, but will enrich and broaden their understanding of congregational life and systems.

And so, this is good-bye. I leave you with one of my favorite blessings from the Rev. Michael Schuler:

If you are proud of this church, become its advocate.
If you are concerned for it future, share its message.
If its values resonate deep within you, give it a measure of your devotion.
This church cannot survive without your faith, your confidence, your enthusiasm.
Its destiny, the larger hope, rests in your hands.

Amen. Ashe. And Blessed Be.

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