Emotions of transition

A last trip up the driveway to the road prompted reflection by Rev. Jerome DeVine on the coming session of the 2017 Michigan Conference. ~photo courtesy Jerome DeVine

This “Perspective on Hope” offers insight into the process of “letting go.”

REV. DR. JEROME (JERRY) DEVINE
Director of Connectional Ministries, DAC

With considerably mixed emotions, Ruth and I pulled out of our former driveway for the last time late last week. The very next day a family of six would enter and make the house their own. For eight years the house had offered us shelter, hosted our family gatherings, listened to laughter, sorrow, love and prayers. We had sacrificially given sweat and muscle, creativity and time to turn a stripped-out foreclosure into a family place of grace and belonging. Each of our adult children and their spouses had staked out which bedrooms they most preferred when they came to visit, and our grandchildren had decided how each of several rooms could become their arenas of play and imagination.

From that place and space of familiarity and comfort we were now heading into a new place of transition, filled with vision yet with many challenges. It will take some time to create a new space for life and family to be lived out in the church house we are in the midst of remodeling. While we are elated that the home we departed will have a family that loves it, we know we need to acknowledge the mixed emotions we feel as we move into this transition.

As I worked on one of the remodeling projects of our new home, I began to meditate about what we United Methodists are trying to do to give shape to a new Michigan Conference. It seems to me that some of the same emotions are at play. On one hand we, as lay and clergy members of the two annual conferences, overwhelmingly felt compelled and voted to become one conference. I believe this was deeply rooted in the building of relationships and the over 30 shared ministries across the state that were already bearing fruit. It was rooted in a belief that God is actively in our midst seeking to guide and move us into a life-giving future. It was rooted in a commitment to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of our communities and the world. Yet, to move into that future has meant we will need to acknowledge and own the emotions of driving out of our “driveways” of comfort and familiarity, some for the last time. We are in a new place of transition.

“Yet, to move into that future has meant we will need to acknowledge and own the emotions of driving out of our “driveways” of comfort and familiarity, some for the last time. We are in a new place of transition.”

We are all working on the “remodeling” plan of the Michigan Conference as we head to Annual Conference this year. The legislative items going to annual conference are the blueprints. United Methodist consultant, Gil Rendle, in his book Journey in the Wilderness: New Life for Mainline Churches, reminds us that this is difficult work:

“Letting go is more than passively accepting a loss. It is no longer clinging to the hope that the old will, or should, return. It is a full and active letting go, which is difficult since the old is rooted so deeply.”

When Ruth and I drove out of our former driveway, we paused on the street and allowed ourselves time to offer tears of gratitude for what had been, tears that also acknowledged our grief over what we were letting go of. In the letting go we then could drive to our place of new beginnings.

One of the lectionary texts for April 30th is Luke 24:13-35. This is the story of the post-resurrection appearance of Christ on the road to Emmaus:

Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.

Imagine the mixed emotions of the “two of them” as they walked down this pathway of transition. Memories of shared meals with Jesus and the disciples may have flooded their thoughts. Memories of healings and times of teaching contrasted with the violence and shock of Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion were further complicated by the stories of the empty tomb. They were in a journey of transition. As much as they may have wanted to they could not go back to the place of comfort of the past, nor could they see clearly yet what the future shape of the vision and hope would be.

Sometimes the mixed emotions that are inherent in a time of transition can make it difficult for us to see clearly, preventing “our eyes from recognizing” that the risen Christ is walking on this pathway with us. Lovett Weems, Jr. reminds us that:

The natural inclination of all groups is to resist change, regardless of the merits of who we are. Such resistance is not so much a moral failure of the people in our churches as it is a gravitational pull of groups toward stability rather than change.”  (Take the Next Step; Leading Lasting Change in the Church)

“For a while it may be difficult to know where to find things, wondering which “box” a ministry got packed into. For a while some will feel a sense of loss for that which was familiar and comfortable.”

When the movers delivered the last load of our belongings to our new project home I have to admit that Ruth and I were overwhelmed. Trying to find some semblance of normality in the midst of boxes and construction materials was daunting. I think it will feel this way for some of our laity and clergy who are involved in district and conference leadership as we seek to more fully live into the new Michigan Conference in the year of transition ahead of us. It will feel this way for some of our agencies, organizations and staff. For a while it may be difficult to know where to find things, wondering which “box” a ministry got packed into. For a while some will feel a sense of loss for that which was familiar and comfortable. In the midst of this there will also be moments of excitement as relationships expand, ministries emerge and grow, and signs of God’s presence with us are seen as our eyes are opened.

I am mindful of how the Gospel story from Luke ends. It ends with a meal, and in that breaking of bread “their eyes were opened” and once again they could affirm, “Were not our hearts burning within us …”.  After days of living in the midst of boxes and sawdust, Ruth cleared off the dining room table and enough of the kitchen counters so that we could prepare our first home-cooked meal in our new place of transition. Breaking bread together gave us a new comfort in our new place. May it be so for all of us as we gather in our local churches this Sunday, and as we gather up North for Annual Conference June 1-4.

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