“Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. “ Jn 12:24
I have never been in any call/job for more than three years. This is largely due to my age and the interspersion of large chunks of schooling in the midst of my professional life--4 years of college, during which I worked at a daycare center; 3 years as an inner city youth outreach worker for a group of churches; 3 years in seminary with field education in a program sized parish where I worked with the young people; 2 ½ years as a pediatric chaplain.
Each of these calls/places/jobs was VERY relational in nature—the lines between the professional and personal often blurred, and I retain close friends from each of these places on my journey. Yet, as much as I loved the people I met in these places, I left. Some of my leave taking came from the natural progression of my education, no one expected me to stay at the student staffed daycare center beyond college, and some from choices I made about my personal and professional life.
Each time I left I went through a period of mourning as I experienced the loss of relationship, the loss of my role(s), and the loss of the structure I had established in each of my calls. My world changed dramatically with each transition and I often felt (and feel) bereft as I pondered what my new manner of life would be. Leaving, for me, is always the hardest part of ministry—but good leave taking can help the people left behind to become more the people they are called to be…
There is a book entitled, Running Through the Thistles: Terminating a Ministerial Relationship With a Parish: Roy M. Oswald, that I read while in seminary. In brief, the Reverend Oswald, describes how it is our responsibility and obligation (both for our own sake and that of our congregation) to prepare them for our leave taking. That we can duck and cover or we can allow the process to unfold in a fashion that allows for reconciliation and love to manifest themselves.
Preparation for leave taking from a call is very similar to preparation for leave taking from life. Quaker physician Ira Byock, in his book Dying Well, describes five tasks of the dying as: “Forgive me”; “I forgive you”; “Thank you”; “I love you”; and “Goodbye.” In saying each of these things (either in word or action) the dying and those who love them are able to achieve reconciliation at the last. And, it strikes me, that our “smaller” leave takings may be practice for our big leave taking.
And, on this Tuesday in Holy Week I am struck by how Jesus prepares his disciples for his own leave taking. Forgive me, I forgive you, thank you, I love you, goodbye…
Our dog, Lily, shortly before her death.