Saturday, March 10, 2012

Saying Goodbye to a Beloved Congregation

I thought about including this in my "Life of Work" series, but truthfully, Whidbey Island has been more than a place to work. It has been a place where I found myself fulfilled professionally as well as personally; the congregation has been not just a job but a joy, and I am so glad I stayed here for so long. I tried in vain to find fulltime work during my first three years of serving parttime, but none of those pre-candidacies ever became a candidacy, even though I was runner-up a time or two.

When the final "we've invited so and so to be our candidate" was delivered, several years ago, I felt a huge relief, because I almost dreaded being so busy again. I had developed a personal life while serving parttime at Whidbey and Vashon and it was hard to consider giving it up.

Soon after I re-framed disappointment into relief, I moved to Whidbey Island, fell deeply in love with the congregation and the island, and threw myself into this lively, hard-working, almost-utopian South Whidbey community. I have never regretted it and, in fact, I can honestly say that these past several years have been the happiest years of my life. So far, anyhow.

There has always been something about the Whidbey congregation and community that has inspired me to be my best, to serve its needs, to encourage its aspirations, to collaborate in its success. Together we've grown spiritually, in numbers, in wisdom, in outreach. We built a home together; we survived losses that shook us all; we negotiated disagreements, dealt with problematic people, and took hard stances when necessary. We have been a religious leader in our already-liberal community; where other congregations were accepting of many liberal social positions, we have tended to be out front, offering space for same sex weddings and advocating for civil rights for beleaguered groups and individuals.

I feel I've done good work here, but it's largely because we have learned to work together, to collaborate on worship, administration, governance, education, and building issues. Sometimes my part in the collaboration has been to be a cheerleader, rather than take a more involved part; sometimes, as in worship, we have worked together carefully to co-create worship that is representative of congregational needs and presents a reverential experience for worshipers. I am wholly responsible for two services per month; lay and special speakers fill the other two Sundays, but it has been a very long time since a lay-led service was amateurishly done. Our worship leaders are skilled and proficient in worship design and worship leading. I have helped with training, but much of their success has come from their own efforts to learn the worship arts. I am so pleased with their abilities and commitment to offering high quality worship. I think they do it well, as well as any other congregation I have served OR attended.

I hope that our search committee finds just the right minister for this lovely bunch of folks, whose skills and commitment are incredibly high. They will be polite to a person who comes in and wants to change everything, but they will resist such an effort. We have talked about what challenges they may face with a new minister whose style is much different from mine; I believe that they will be able to work with just about anyone, but woe unto the person who doesn't recognize their highly developed abilities!

The best new person, I think, will come in with a desire to love these dear people, learn their ways, understand what it means to live on a sort-of-utopian island, let them lead him/her at times and gently offer new ideas as appropriate.

It will be hard to say goodbye in June.


Kari said...

Hard to leave, but good to leave with such love and care. xoxo

Lilylou said...

Yep! And I think you know how that goes, Kari, being in the same position yourself, right?

Heidi said...

What a sweet love letter to your congregation! It's so interesting following your final months and experiencing similar feelings up here as we prepare to say good-bye to Doug. My best preparation has been to learn to adopt the belief that "change is the gift of transformation" - something I've only recently come to feel secure with. My guess is that the person who is attracted to Island Life will be the just the right person for your congregation. Cheers, Heidi

Lilylou said...

Thanks, Heidi, it is my fond hope too.

Miss Kitty said...

Indeed, this love letter to your about-to-be-former congregation is so heartfelt and sweet. They're very fortunate to have had you as their minister, and you them as your congregants.


Lilylou said...

Thank you, dear Miss K.