What we call the beginning is often the end and to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from. T.S. Eliot
Endings are often synonymous with sorrow. We are lonely when we lose a loved one, we are disappointed when our vacation is over we are concerned when our job ceases to exist. Yet some endings give us reasons to be glad, when our pain either physical or emotional stops, when we are finally at the end of a very long drive, when the bad weather stops and the sunshine returns. Often we think of endings as something that just happens and that we have little to do with how it affects us. Yet the more we understand about what an ending is the better we can cope and even enjoy it.
William Bridges in the book we are studying called Transitions begins by saying that “considering that we have to deal with endings all our lives, most of us handle them poorly. This is in part because we misunderstand them and take them either too seriously or not seriously enough. We take them too seriously by confusing them with finality – that’s it, all over, never more, finished. We see them as something without sequel, forgetting that they are the first phase of the transition process and a recondition of self-renewal. At the same time, we fail to take them seriously enough. Because the scare us, we try to avoid them.
Many cultures have actual rituals for endings; most notably those for young people who come of age. Some are taken into the wilderness and left alone, some are lead through days of dancing and praying and preparing. The closest we have are when are kids are confirmed in the church or go away to collage. So Bridges has tried to help us understand endings by discussing five aspects of the natural ending experience. They are disengagement, dismantling, disidentification, disenchantment and disorientation.
The first aspect is disengagement. One of the greatest examples is when Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness. To better understand what he was to do in the world, he left it. He went alone to think, to pray, to be tempted to resist temptation. When he returned to the world he went and was baptized by John and he took up his ministry to the world. Sometimes an ending means a real break, like ours. I won’t just cease being your pastor I will no longer even live here. This will make it so much simpler; my leaving will open up a place fo Pastor Vette.
Disengagement causes loss and sometimes it is hard to see it as a gift in disguise. But in our case it is so necessary so that I can reengage in Bozeman and Pastor Vette can engage with you.
Most of you know I just took Skeeter to my Kate. He is retiring to AZ; sounds pretty good doesn’t it? Especially if you saw how all Katie’s friends are fawning over him and making sure that he is comfortable and eating and drinking. They are taking him for walks and turning him out in the pasture. He doesn’t miss me. But I miss him. I realize how much my live revolved around his care. For the last several mornings my routine feels all off, I no longer need to head up to the barn first thing to feed him and muck out his stall. I can stay in my jammies much longer. There is the gift to a sad disengagement.
The second aspect is dismantling. This is the grieving part, when we realize how much we will miss each other because I like Skeeter no longer live here. It is a physical longing for the presence that we have become so use to. Once again some societies have stylized rituals for grieving, people wear black, the rosary is prayed, the old dwelling is burned. What are our rituals for the dismantling of our relationship? We have good-bye parties, we send cards, and we are intentional about saying how much we mean to one another. We promise to stay in touch. The physical distance creates our necessity to dismantle. I will remove all the things from my office, clean out my files, make lists and leave everything in good shape. Dismantling means we begin to take apart the internal structures that have guided our relationship. Things will change. Will the office hours stay the same? What interesting art and photos will Pastor Vette hang in her office?
Here is where we have to also dismantle the way that we communicate with each other. Face book can cause issues, some pastors un-friend the congregation members of the church they are leaving. I can’t do that, but I will no longer comment on your posts. If we talk to one another is that we no longer can discuss church. I can’t talk to you about what is going on, good or bad. That is what you do with Pastor Vette, no longer with me. I cannot marry, or do memorial services; I can no longer counsel you. This is the really hard part, and this is what we have to recognize that we grieve. Our unique and wonderful relationships now have to be realigned and for the most part dismantled. But I know that I leave you in good pastoral hands!
Disidentification is the third aspect. Now that I am no longer your pastor and you are no longer my congregation who are we? I have always tried to remind everyone that I am not the church, you are. You are what continues, my leaving will create change but you are the constant part of CUMC. Lately I have been gone, performing a wedding, taking training, moving Skeeter to AZ and…you have been doing just fine! This ending gives us both the opportunity to examine whom we are, and who do we want to be? In a bar in a Midwest town there hangs a sign that says: I ain’t what I ought to be, and I ain’t what I’m going to be, but I ain’t what I was!
We have been together for five years and we have created routines and patterns. We pretty well know what to expect from each other. Think of the Bozeman congregation for 18 years they have had the very same pastor! They may know each other too well and change could be really hard. Again this is why they are sending me as a transitional minister so that they will have two years to examine who they want to be.
You and Pastor Vette will do that together and find refreshing ways of being the same and being different.
Bridges fourth aspect of endings is Disenchantment.Now separated from the old identity and the old situation a person and the church can float free. The old world is no longer real. It is similar to when you found out that there was no such thing as Santa Claus. A bit broken hearted but there was a part of you that doubted that he could actually bring presents to every kid, squeeze down a chimney and had flying reindeer? Disenchantment is when we empty ourselves of the old and in this space we are free. Here is your chance to do it differently, to think about church in a new way, to tear down walls. Well that might be a bit dramatic. Our minds are vessels that must be emptied if new wine is to be poured in. When we understand disenchantment we realize that we are in a very creative place. We carry what we have learned it just changes. We did not have to unlearn 1st grade to go on to 2nd. It is just the opposite what we have experienced allows us to experience more.
Bridges says; “The whole idea of disenchantment is that reality has many layers, none wrong but each appropriate to a particular phase of intellectual and spiritual development. The disenchantment experience is the signal that the time has come to look below the surface of what has been thought to be so. It is the sign that we are ready to see and understand more now.”
Disorientation is the final aspect of endings. Bridges defines disorientation as:
“The reality that is left behind in all endings is not just a picture on the wall. It is a sense of which way is up and which way is down, it is a sense of which way is forward and which way is back. In short it is a way of orienting oneself and of moving forward into the future.”
Disorientation puts us in a state of mind that is meant to create us. Robert Frost says; we are “Lost enough to find yourself.”
As you might have guessed disorientation is meaningful but it isn’t enjoyable. Biblically it is where Jonah found himself in the belly of that big, icky, stinky fish. He had tried to run away from what God wanted him to do, so God gave him a “time out.” God disoriented him in a very weird place so that he would seriously consider what his course of action would be. It’s the time of nothingness that allows us to find something new. And this time of nothingness can awaken old fears of death, and abandonment.
However this change is not abandonment, instead it is like handing the baton off to the next runner. The Cabinet was very careful in its selection of Pastor Vette. Prayfully they considered how you would be a good fit for her, as she will be a good fit for you. However there will be feelings of disorientation, and here again I remind all of us that we are not a restaurant, a business or a school. We don’t have to experience this change, understand this transition alone. We have God! And God is good. That is what the author of Ecclesiastics was saying when he wrote that there is a time for everything under heaven. Because God is present.
God is present but God isn’t going to take away these five aspects of endings. I believe that God inspired ancient people to write the Psalms, to write Ecclesiastes and contemporary people like William Bridges to write inspirational messages for us to follow. God wants us to grow and that means our God is a God of change!
It is up to us to have faith, to trust that our God of change is right here, right now right with us. We must have courage to experience the ending, to welcome the time in between and to believe that God is creating a wonderful new beginning! Amen.