Endings matter because the final moments of a group’s togetherness can substantially influence the entire experience. The ending can modify the experience, make it better or worse, embed it deeply in memory or, absent a strong close, can dilute an experience into something that happened, but mattered little.Tim McNamara – https://sweetunrest.com/ending-well-treating-classes-like-gatherings-part-three/
One of the best pieces of Wisdom I heard from several folks as news of my departure from my pastoral role started to spread was ”Endings are just as important as beginnings.” And, I couldn’t agree more. At the time that these conversations were happening, I so happened to be reading The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why it Matters by Priya Parker that is referenced in the article from which I pulled the above quote. Parker too offered this Wisdom and likened it to a memorial service, which as a pastor, I know quite a lot about.
In fact, when the awareness that my time as the Associate Pastor of First Congregational Church Boulder, UCC was coming to a close began to arise in my consciousness, I initially wondered if it meant I was dying. I know that sounds a little dramatic. But, the calling to resign hit me without significant clarity on what my next move was going to be. And, when we consider the survival implications of any work we do, it is not difficult to see how on a subconscious level, our jobs can trigger our survival instincts. The brain tries to tell us—or at least me—“No job = no life.” So when my brain realized that I was feeling called to resign from my position with no clear indication of what was coming next, it tried to frame the decision as a “life or death” situation. “How can you resign without a job? You must be having a mid-life crisis or worst yet, maybe you’re dying.”
But, after some prayer and reflection and a checkup from my doctor, I realized that I was not having a mid-life crisis or dying. I was just aware that we were entering into a new season and that in this season, I was being called into a level of discernment that required saying farewell to the congregation I was in ministry with for the past 6.5 years.
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens…Ecclesiastes
Once I realized that I was headed in a new direction, it became important for me to let the leadership know what was on the horizon. Despite the conventional wisdom that one must have a job before they leave one, I felt that I needed to let them know and, as soon as possible, let the other people I was in community with know. Now before I go further, I will acknowledge that my way may not work for everyone. However, I do believe that if we could foster a society where we learned how to honor beginnings and endings as natural stages in every relational paradigm, we could actually do a lot more with the time we do have rather than wasting relational capital on subterfuge.
When I came to this community, it was after serving nearly 8 years in the military and another 8 years in corporate recruiting in addition to other volunteer and private sector roles. In every role I was in, I carried within me an awareness that I came to that place for a season where I could contribute to the professed vision and ideal of the organization and receive from them the relationships, lessons, and remuneration that facilitated me contributing at the highest level possible. And as I see it, part of contributing at the highest level is knowing when your season is coming to a close so that you can also depart at the highest level possible.
In my experience and opinion, a high level departure consists of:
- Honoring the relationships that enabled you to make the contributions you worked toward.
- Acknowledge your limitations and realize that there were likely areas where you were unable to fulfill all of your aspirations.
- Forgive yourself, others, and circumstances that prevented you from accomplishing all of your individual and collective goals.
- Celebrate your individual and collective successes.
- Envision the highest possible future you can imagine for yourself, the members of the organization you are departing, and whoever will be replacing you.
- Ritualize your departure in some way that acknowledges all of the above.
- Give yourself the space to grieve the relational shifts that will become evident once you are no longer actively engaged with the members of the organization.
- When possible, give yourself time to process what will come up as you encounter milestones away from your previous roles.
- Find refuge in knowing that your job is not your identity. Connect with people who know you outside of your previous role.
- Gratefully receive all of the well-wishes and good intentions that come your way and hold any criticisms with an open hand–learning from them but not being limited by them.
- If you are able to do so, take some time cocooning. As I was taking in the other 10 points above, I prayed and asked what I was up to in this discernment season and immediately the word “cocooning” rose to my conscious awareness. What a gift as I focus on personal transformation.
- And finally, in everything, take total responsibility for your choices. Even if you didn’t “choose” your transition–such as when your organization is bought out and your role becomes redundant–you can still take total responsibility for how you leave and what your outlook is. If you can choose total responsibility, then the other 11 insights will take care of themselves.
Now that I’m approaching two weeks since my final memorial and worship services, I can wholeheartedly say that I agree with this wisdom that endings are just as important as beginnings. In my case, I was fortunate enough that I was able to engage the leadership in these conversations about my transition with up to 90 days’ notice. Of course many organizations will not welcome that much advanced notice for their employees. But, if anyone with influence on these types of policies comes across this post, I recommend that you offer such an option because I predict that in the future allowing for these types of thoughtful transitions will distinguish organizations with real relational capacity from those that see people as things. And in the end, what really matters is how we treat people.
Below, are videos for the first and last sermons I delivered at First Congregational Church Boulder, UCC. I hope that in watching these, you get a sense of the relational journey we’ve been on in the past 6.5 years.