What a wasted opportunity...the transition zone is the only real thing and the [stable zones] are illusions we dream up to avoid the void where the real change, the real growth, occurs for us...The transition zones in our lives are incredibly rich places. They should be honored, even savored. Yes, with all the pain and fear and feelings of being out of control that can accompany transitions, they are still the most alive, most growth-filled, passionate, expansive moments in our lives."
In this view of those who study how humans best deal with change - planned and unplanned, welcome and unwelcome - the goal isn't to set aside our difficult feelings, or, as one college classmate advised me when I lost a beloved teacher, to suck it up and get with the program. The goal is to faithfully welcome all that transitions bring, with open arms. To hospitably welcome feelings like sorrow, surprise, regret, anger, grief, pessimism, optimism, despair, excitement, curiosity, inspiration, and faith. Sometimes, as an individual and as a community, the only way forward is through.
Through denial, which might feel like, "This can't be happening." Through anger, which feels like, "This isn't fair," or "They should have done things differently." Through bargaining: trying to change the present or even change the past (though that book is closed). Through numbness...which doesn't feel like much at all...and onto acceptance, hope, inspiration, commitment to the mysterious future, then back to the tough feelings again. It's a long roller coaster, a generous mess. It is life at its most awake. Often, during transitions, the universe discloses its richest revelations.
Here in New England, we are blessed by history: we know our ancestors in faith spent centuries in congregations and beyond dealing with similar transitions. Amidst all the change they weathered, they found ways to fan the flame of our liberal faith a little brighter. We are lucky, too, to be in covenant with our co-religionists, who genuinely care about the changes we undergo as individuals and communities, and are committed to seeing us through.
And we have good companions in the 118 congregations of the Clara Barton and Mass Bay Districts, too. As your Director of Congregational Development, I know that 23% of the congregations in our Districts are experiencing ministerial transition right now! As a service to help connect congregations and ministers, I've put together a new permanent webpage of CBD/MBD congregations in ministerial transition. Twenty-seven of our 118 congregations are in the ministerial version of the transition zone - somewhere between the announced departure of a settled minister and the settlement of their next. And all of our 118 congregations are experiencing many other transitions as well, right now!
All of us in the District offices are here to support you amidst your particular congregational transitions. And your brother and sister congregations are there for you as well. As the new guy, I admit I'm still learning about how congregations turn to one another for support. And I'm interested in discovering, going forward: how might we? I invite you to let me know your thoughts.
Staying awake to the possibilities transitions bring,
Rev. John Gibb Millspaugh
Acting Director of Congregational Development