Friday, July 4, 2014

Breaking up is Hard to do!

As of the end of July my contract with George Street United Church will end. Three years ago they hired me to provide one year of “supply ministry” while a committee conducted a Needs Assessment.

That one year extended into another, and then another. While all this time there was a knowledge that this was a “temporary” posting, that I was there for a good time not a long time - the place began to grow on me.  I never did get new church stationary printed with my name on it, but sometime in year two I did hang my art in the office.

While at George Street (or GSU) Lynn and I had the opportunity to test drive a team ministry while we honeymooned our way through our first years of Peterborough living. We found that we work together equally well at home and at church – with one exception - Lynn was surprised to find another lover in our bed.

Let me explain a bit. While there was never another “body” in our bed – there was all too often another “presence”. We learned to make light of the fact. Lynn would notice that I had a “far away” look in my eyes and I’d have to fess up that I had been with “the other woman” – George Street.

Being a supply minister means that some people are reluctant to “bond” with this person who won’t be around for long. Why invest time getting to know someone – or opening up my life to this person – when they’re going to leave soon? I get it.

Others cracked their lives wide open and invited me in. One of the things I love most about this job is the opportunity to ask nosey questions and get people telling me their “story”. I don’t collect cards or coins or much else, but I am an avid collector of life stories. It’s always an honour to be trusted with the telling – and there’s always some takeaway wisdom in each person’s journey.

Sometimes it wasn’t a choice. A death, or hospital visit, means that your life gets opened up whether you like it or not – and your need for a pastor opens a door you might have politely kept closed otherwise.

It was an exciting and challenging time to walk with this congregation. While in some ways all United Churches – all churches – are in transition as the culture shifts further and further from organized religion into consumer spirituality, the transition for GSU had spiraled into something more.

George Street has a history of leading the trends. Over its long history it “planted” several other congregations in Peterborough. And more recently GSU became known as a place of both progressive thinking and political activism. 

But the congregation had aged and shrunk and this huge old building with such a fine heritage was getting to be more than the congregation could handle.

GSU Council decided that before they called a new minister, they needed to get clear about where they were heading. What was their future? What was the unique role this congregation could fill in this downtown neighbourhood?

So, in addition to the day to day, week to week, season to season work of ministry, visioning, proposing, testing pilot projects, retreating, evaluating, listening, debating, learning hard lessons, admitting mistakes, adapting and beginning again – all became a major pre-occupation for myself and the church’s leadership. My role evolved from a caretaker’s position into a midwife’s. Working our way ahead through the conflict and the celebrations, the losses and the successes required my emotional, spiritual and physical attention. The congregation changed. I changed. We called it transformation.

In theory, ministers are supposed to maintain an objective and professional attitude with their clients. This might work if I was a lawyer or a doctor or a therapist. But the work of ministry is all about passions. People are involved in their churches because they love it – and can’t help it. They pour their time and their money into the place and they can get pretty passionate about things

While I’m sure that I did a damn good job of maintaining a professional approach – I couldn’t help but get drawn into the drama of this GSU love story. I waded in and then swam in the deep waters with all of my own skill and passions. I poured my whole self into it. That’s the way I do ministry.

I don’t sit back and observe. I listen. I ask questions. And then I find the people who want to make a story happen. And we did. We tried and we tested. We listened some more and asked more questions. Every step of the way, the congregation voted for the story to continue unfolding.

And now it’s over for me. It feels like the end of a TV season – I’m the actor who won’t return next season because the authors have written me out of the plot. My affair with GSU has come to an end. I’ve been voted off the island. 

Good Grief! Breaking up is hard to do…

“Say it’s not so!” was one of the first reactions                  DENIAL

“Maybe you could just stay a bit longer?” was another               BARGAINING

“You never really loved me – did you?” has come up in a number of ways    ANGER

“We’re really going to miss you” is the hardest to hear because it reminds me of how much I’m going to miss them                                                        DEPRESSION

“Remember when…?” stories arise as we begin to reminisce about the good times and the struggles. I don’t think I’ll get through this last stage for quite some time yet. Even as I begin to pack the boxes. Tie up the loose ends. Attend my final meetings. Write my final report – it’s gonna take time before I get to…                ACCEPTANCE

The story of GSU will continue to evolve without me. I’ll be a neighbour now. An ex-boyfriend who’s moved out but still lives in town. I’ll be curious - but uninvolved in the household.

Lynn and I just bought a house in this downtown neighbourhood I’ve come to love. My own story is about to start a new chapter. We’ve begun hearing rumours of what I’ll do next. The truth is – I don’t know.

There is a certain pressure to find the way to keep house and home together.
But I’m not ready to start dating again. One chapter needs to end before the next can begin. Am I worried? YES and NO.

The problem with being a preacher is that you find yourself sooner or later needing to walk the talk. As I’ve been preaching about having the courage to take leaps of faith, to trust that the resources will come if the need is clear and the purpose is true – we’re now stepping out into that void of unknowing called “faith”.

We moved to Peterborough before the GSU job came up because we felt led by god’s spirit to plant ourselves here. GSU was an unexpected surprise. I remember it as both a daunting and an exciting opportunity.  It seemed at the time to be – not why we were in Peterborough – but an uncanny good fit with the direction we were heading.

This direction seems to have no path. So we take one step at a time. We’re cutting our own trail - as the alleycat wanders - I’ll keep writing and in that way “leave a trail”.


Carol Kilby said...

Hard to do. Faith-full to do. Easier in the rear-view mirror. Walk well. Wander wide. Be ready for surprise, again.

Jo Hayward-Haines said...

The spirit of your ministry can't be contained by any institutional church, no matter how dedicated and progressive. But I hope the memory will linger on.