I have decided to leave the community I love. Or I should say, the Spirit is calling me to love a new community. I have done this before. I have left communities that I love. I have driven out of town after a long day of cleaning out my college apartment after four years of undergrad, two years of masters work and one year of being employed by the university. Earlier that day, I visited the President’s Office, The Housing office, Food Service, Music Department, English Department, Student Affairs Department. One by one crying on the shoulder of someone whom I loved, saying “goodbye” to a dear person that was a formative person in my life. As I drove away I thought, “how will I carry on without these people in my daily life?”
I met a friend then who would visit me again from time to time. My friend’s name was Grief. She sat too close to me so I could not breathe. She pressed on my heart so intensely, I thought it might crack. She sat too close to me, strangling my hope and stifling my courage to press on.
When I became a pastor, I was called to the church in which I had served as a seminary intern. I loved my first church. Someone once said to me, “there is nothing like your first love. ” They were right. The sanctuary was this huge stone building with a high pulpit and the most ornate windows. The people who sat in those pews tolerated my first sermons. They trusted me with their teenagers and they welcomed me into their life stories. I was mentored by two wonderful pastors who let me think I knew I what I was doing and who engaged in dialogue on theology, polity, and dogma. I had two children while pastoring that congregation. My girls were loved and provided for by church members as if they were their own children. Then, the Spirit came in with Her still, small voice and whispered in my ear, “it’s time to go.” I felt the call to love a new community. I felt like a part of me was being amputated. How could I ever leave this place and these people I loved? What if they die and I don’t get to say goodbye? What about the spiritual life of the baby I baptized? What about the health of the marriage of the couple I married? What about my friends? Oh, how I will miss this pulpit! This order of worship! This organ! Oh my God, I cannot do this!
And she came back, Grief. With her thick, black hair and dark eyes of loss. She sat there. Right on my heart. And every time I was touched, I bled tears.
I came to a neighborhood church, in a beautiful college town. I was now a “Head of Staff.” I got to preach every week. I got to moderate session meetings and help cast the vision for the church. I had our third child upon arriving to this welcoming community. We came together as a community. The Spirit showed up with her bright, white cape, and she flew around and kissed everyone who walked in the door. The congregation patiently let me find my way and forgave my mistakes and celebrated my victories. When we had a family crisis, they rallied around me. We grew together, learned together and grappled with what it means to be Church in the 21st century. They were incredibly gifted at disagreeing without being disagreeable. I became completely invested in the life of this lively and growing congregation. Then the Spirit came over to me, wrapped her gentle arms around me, and whispered in my ear “it’s time to go.” Another amputation. “But I will let them down! They will be so sad! I can’t hurt them! How can I hurt them? Please God. Please. Give. Me. Courage.”
Grief holds my hand with her long, bony hands and gives me a squeeze every time I forget she is there.
Now I begin the process of saying goodbye again.
I also look ahead as the Spirit gleefully dances ahead. Beckoning me down the road. “Come” She says, “You have something to do here! I cannot wait to show you what I have in store! You must come and say ‘hello’ to a whole new group of people with their own faith stories! All is well! All is well All is well!”
Please God, give me courage.
When I was in high school, our church choir sang a song that has always defined my call:
Down the Road
Going to keep on going down the road/ going to hold my head up high/ going to follow where the path may lead/ til it reaches to the sky/ going to face each joy and sorrow that I meet along the way/ going to travel out my future day by day.
Oh I don’t know what’s ahead of me at the coming of the dawn/but I welcome each tomorrow and I keep on moving on./ With a cup full of promise and my head full of dreams/ I know the sun is shining though the clouds may hide it’s beams.
And I hope that where I travel they will say of me one day/ONE DAY
That I somehow made a difference that I passed this way.
That I passed this way.
That I passed this way.