Week of the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
Dear Friends in Christ:
Perhaps the initial shock of the announcement of my resignation as pastor at Resurrection to take another congregational call has begun to wear off, and the realities of this transition are now beginning to sink in more deeply. Even if there is general acknowledgement that my taking a call in Phoenix to be in close proximity to my son is understandable, that does not stop the human reality that this transition nonetheless evokes and provokes a wide variety of reactions and responses. The termination of my call here makes for significant upheaval in the life of our congregation. Understandably, many may be experiencing a full range of responses – shock, disappointment, sadness, anger, a sense of betrayal, anxiety, perhaps for some even relief, and more. It may also be that it would be appropriate to invoke some of the classic stages of grief in relation to our shared time of transition – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.
Please know that I am still available to you for conversation about all of this as you desire. In fact, I am eager to have such holy conversation for the sake of making the most of our remaining days together. Further information is soon forthcoming about the actual date of my leave-taking and what the transition process will look like.
Resurrection Church has been in a state of transition for several years now. And just when life together seemed to be settling in to a new era of stability, my leaving reignites another period of transition. This is made all the more difficult by the realities of the pandemic and the upheaval it has caused for two years and counting. Moreover, national and international crises persist beyond the pandemic. Given so much change in nation and world, perhaps the last place we want still more change is in the church, which we yearn to be an oasis of stability amidst the storms of life.
It is also true that times of pastoral transition disrupt equilibrium in congregational systems. The pastor, as shepherd, has a coordinating role in creatively managing the natural tensions among members and groups within a congregation. When that coordinating role is removed from the system, then it’s natural for there to be some re-emergence of anxiety and perhaps even conflict. That’s true of every congregation, and of every human system.
Thus, the coming weeks and months call for renewed commitments to attending to the qualities that make for healthy Christian communal life. May the words of Paul guide our life together as we engage the rigors of this season of transition: “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful.” (Colossians 3:12-15)
Please know that you are not alone in whatever sense of upheaval my leave-taking is provoking. Many other congregations are in similar boats, even as the whole ecosystem of the wider church is amidst an era of far-reaching change. And I, too, am not immune from these realities. I have not known consistent circumstantial stability in my life since at least late 2017 when the bishop of Metro New York Synod, my then boss, had to resign because of misconduct. Since that time, it’s been one significant crisis-related transition after another, most especially Nathan’s stroke. I, too, yearn for a return of stability. But the current nature of our world simply may not provide it.
How we are moved to frame this time is crucial for our creatively and faithfully living through it. Thus, I encourage you, as I encourage myself, to see the time before us, when the circumstances of stability and predictability and good order seem to be or are in fact taken from us, as an invitation to still deeper faith in Christ, trusting that in Christ all shall be well, that all is well, recalling the wisdom of Julian of Norwich. May we all be drawn to falling anew into the loving, merciful arms of God in Christ by the nudging of the Spirit, whose embrace is the source of our ultimate stability, a foundational reality that cannot be taken from us, even when the stormy seas of life seem to prove otherwise.
Trustingly – even if haltingly so – in Christ,
Pastor Jonathan Linman