My phone was on record while tears traveled down my warm cheeks. My sister sat next to me as sniffles filled our corner of the room. Our brothers and husbands sat behind us next to our mom. In front of us, we watched our dad do something he does well: transitions. After five years at Bend Church and forty years of full-time ministry, Dad was retiring. He told his church last fall and the new pastor was announced a few months ago. Lots of people worked behind the scenes to plan parties, prepare for their new pastor and celebrate their outgoing pastor. Typically, in the United Methodist Church, the outgoing pastor has a last Sunday and the new pastor arrives a week or two later. They’ve maybe spoken by phone or email a couple times. Maybe they know each other or they may not. But it’s rare that the outgoing and incoming pastor lead worship together. In the same room. With their beloved community.
But there we were, watching our dad invite Pastor Jen up to receive a gift to the church. They prayed together. Dad released everyone to her care and love. Tears flowed. There was forgiveness, closure and a letting go. As Pastor Jen opened her palms, she received the new space to lead and love in this place. The actual transfer struck such a deep chord in my being. Why? It wasn’t just that I was celebrating Dad’s entire active ministry as a United Methodist elder. It went deeper than that. It was the ritual of saying goodbye. Our culture doesn’t do this well. Life changes all the time and we don’t know how to grieve change. We reserve grief for a loved one’s death. Not for the loss of a dream, the end of a school year, a changing friendship or the end of a fantastic vacation. Maybe it feels too dramatic or we’d rather avoid painful feelings. So we move on. We push sadness away or we get stuck in it because we don’t know what to do with it.
A few years ago, I intentionally started normalizing goodbyes with our children. I wanted a small ritual so they could let something go and move to the next thing. Whenever we leave for a long trip, we say goodbye to our daughter’s room, to the playroom and to the entire house. It gives her space to name the goodbye so she can then let it go. There’s still sadness and some tears. But she can bring it outside of herself a bit. We can share the goodbye together. The naming of the goodbye gives us permission to feel whatever feelings are inside. You have permission to say goodbye to the big and small transitions in your life. How might you mark the end of a school year in a meaningful way for a child who’s a little sad about leaving friends and excited for the next school year? You can create intentional goodbye moments with moving neighbors, the loss of a physical ability or a change in employment. Saying goodbye doesn’t mean the sadness vanishes. If anything, it intensifies for a season. We actually feel it. It’s the moment most people avoid. But for those willing to step more fully into their sadness, they’ll find Love, meaning, freedom and new life on the other side. When I left St. John United Methodist Church in Anchorage, Alaska after sixteen years as part of their church family, I was intentional about saying goodbye. I knew the depth of my goodbye to them would enable me to be ready to say hello to my new church family in Marysville, Washington. I preached the sermons, had the conversations, said all the things I wanted to say. I put into words what they meant to me as a young person who heard a call to ministry and grew to become one of their pastors for a season. I received their kind words and love. I’ll never forget my last Sunday with them. I stood at the back of the sanctuary and cried and hugged each person. They had carried me through a significant season in my life and I wanted to say goodbye well. Intentional goodbyes gift us the room for a new hello.
My parents, Pastor Nicole & Pastor Jen share a laugh during the closing liturgy.
Back to that Sunday in the Bend Church. Dad said his final blessing and then added, “And it’s okay to say hi to Pastor Jen.” I felt the sense of relief in the room. In that moment, he let go and gave everyone permission to deepen a relationship with their new pastor. People formed lines with them both as hugs, tears and laughter filled the room. We took a family picture and headed out for pizza and the beginning of a family vacation in the mountains. It’s a beautiful thing to say goodbye. To let go. To open our palms wide to what Love wants to do through us next. May we not miss the new invitations because we haven’t said goodbye to the old ones.