It’s Pentecost, the birthday of the church! We celebrate it every year just like we celebrate all our birthdays! It was a time of great change, fear, excitement and wonder! Sounds like what we are experiencing! We are in a time of transition.
From the beginning of time the universe has been in transition, the creation of the earth and the solar system, the beginning of life on earth, mankind came into being, and the rest is history. Change is inevitable if life is to continue and God has been a part of the change from the very first spark.
So how do we deal with transition? First by understanding more about what it really entails. Defined transition means “the process or a period of changing from one state or condition to another.”
William Bridges in his book Transitions, Making Sense of Life’s Changes defines several important aspects of transition. He begins by explaining that if we don’t pay attention to the transition of change then all we are really doing is re arranging the chairs. His first rule of understanding transitions is recognizing that “When we are in transition we often find ourselves coming back in new ways to old activities.” Remember a few weeks ago when our scripture told the story of Jesus appearing to the disciples on the shoreline? The disciples were in transition, Jesus had died, and they feared for their lives. They were confused about how to deal with the change so what did they do? They went back to fishing.
We may think we are OK with the change but inherently we are most comfortable if we can return to what we are accustomed to. It’s difficult to give things up even when we are excited by the possibility of even better things. So what is important is to try to understand what it is that we are losing. Take time to grieve that loss. Our feelings individually and as the church can include all the recognized stages of grief; denial, anger, bargaining, anxiety, sadness disorientation and depression. I know that I am feeling several of these most acutely and I am the one that started this process. So that is why I want us to think about our feelings and be free to talk about it, cry about it, laugh about it. When I am experiencing grief, I encourage myself to sit down and cry a little everyday, so you will see lots of tears from me in the next 7 weeks.
Bridges second rule is that; “Every transition begins with an ending.” Our ending is coming; on June 19 we will say good-bye. Endings are hard, it is sad to say goodbye to all of you. We have spent the last five years learning about each other and working together for the church. What can help is looking back and understanding the endings in our lives, individually and as a church. We each have our own style of ending things. Whatever our coping skills include, it’s helpful to review how our past endings felt, and what we did to ease the transition.
One thing for certain all change includes endings. A change can be as simple as knocking over a glass of milk. The glass breaks, the milk is now undrinkable and we have a mess to clean up. It may be just inconvenience or it may be a real ending if it is our very favorite glass that we have had since childhood. Even such a simplistic change still includes Bridges three steps of transition, ending, the breaking of the glass, the in-between time, cleaning up the mess, and any mourning over a beloved glass, and pouring ourselves another glass of milk. It’s the transition that is so important!
Bridges third rule is; although it is advantageous to understand our own style of endings some of us will resist that understanding as though our lives depended on it. So even if we know our style it’s still hard to accept the change.
Some people want to stretch out an ending. Give it lots of time, perhaps in the hope that it won’t really end. Or, by the time it does if really feels like it is over. These are the people who stay to the very end of the party, are hesitant to leave because they want the party to continue. They want to make sure that they say good-bye to everyone there and thank the host for the wonderful time they had. Then there are the people how like to end things fast, cut the ties, finish and get going. These partygoers tend to leave early before the event has time to wind down; they often go without any formal goodbyes because ending is painful and why go through the process.
So if you find that you are one who likes to end it quick, pull of the Band-Aid fast, leave before you have to say good-bye to everyone, I am going to make you uncomfortable. Because I want the opportunity to tell you all how much I cherish our time together and all the things that we have done as a church. What is most important about endings is that they are the first phase of transition. If we aren’t able to let it go and be intentional in our endings then we can’t get into the phase, which is the “neutral zone” or the in-between time. I bet you were thinking I was going to say new beginning? Well that is coming but this in-between time is also very important.
Bridges fourth rule is just what we have been discussing that; first there is an ending, then an in between time and then a beginning.
That is what I will soon be, a pastor of the in between time. The congregation in Bozeman has had a beloved pastor for 18 years. He has married kids that he baptized. There isn’t a pastor in the world that would be a perfect fit for this congregation so they are sending me. I don’t have to Ms Right; I just have to be Ms. Right Now. So I am trying to learn as much about transitions so that I can have a good ending here and a good beginning there.
So my new appointment will be about the in-between time, this neural zone, empty or fallow time between endings and beginning. One reason to better understand for my new ministry and for CUMC is that this neutral zone can be upsetting. The things that make us comfortable are ending and we are concerned about the future. So that is why my last two sermons were about trust and faith. Think how hard the neutral time would be if we didn’t feel like God was with us? Its like a row of dominoes, the ending comes when we push the first domino this movement creates a small in-between time before it hits the next domino and the process begins again.
You now know who your new pastor will be. Vette will be a change for this church, a wonderful and exciting change. But this is not the only change that we have experienced together. It’s important to remember how we as a congregation dealt with change. As the church we decided to try to build a new sanctuary and then we found that we could not and chose to put away that project. That was a big ending, a dream that many of you had held for years. That dream is over, now we have spent time in the in-between time, thinking about what we might like to do to this building to make it the very best it can be. Soon it will be time to start that new beginning, with Vette as your pastor. It will be an exciting time in the life of this church.
It is important for me to leave well. Lynne, Shannon and I have been working on the ending part. Cleaning up the office, organizing and deleting old files, cleaning out closets. We are getting ready for company. This is how we are recognizing the end and using the neutral time for good work.
For the next three weeks I will be preaching, first on the end….no not the end of times! Then on the in-between time and then on beginnings! I will use the well-known scripture from Ecclesiastes; you know it, “For everything threes is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.”
But know its time to revisit our scripture. Luke the author if Acts is telling of a very great change that has occurred. The Holy Spirit has come upon the people, and they have been changed. Imagine the disciples sitting in a locked room; they are consumed with what has ended. Jesus has died, his followers are being persecuted and they are consumed and grieving what they have lost. Now the Holy Spirit comes in the rush of a violent wind and filled the house where they were sitting. Divided tongues of fire appear among them and rest above their heads. They were filled with the Spirit and began to speak in other languages.
All of this commotion drew a crowd and as the disciples went out into the street they continued to speak of this transformation, and all the others could understand, each in their own language. They were talking about Jesus, the Spirit. Talk about a transitional, transformational experience! It is considered the birth of the church.
The disciples were changed, were filled and their ending was over. They then were in a time of personal and transition and soon the vibrant ministry and call to discipleship would emerge as their new beginning.
Our transition won’t be quite as fiery but it will include the spirit. As we understand our own change let us understand with the help of the spirit. What is calling us let go, pay attention to and celebrate and grow? It is a powerful and wondrous time, in scripture, in our world at certainly for us. Amen.