What Color Should The New Curtain Be? – By Rev. Alan Mead
Many years ago, in my early ministry, the morning after a Vestry meeting, my secretary asked what in the world had happened at the meeting. She said that her daughter had been talking with another teen who said her mother came home from the meeting crying and she had never seen her mother crying like that before. My initial thought was surprise and wonder because I didn’t remember anything from the meeting that would be cause for crying.
But I took the opportunity to reflect on what was happening, and my part in it. No, it wasn’t a major issue; it was something so simple that I hadn’t given it a thought: we had made a decision to replace the curtain on the stage, a curtain that had been there for at least 50 years, and disagreement surfaced over what color it should be, with some newer members wanting an elegant dark blue and this woman and a couple of others wanting the replacement to be the same color as the one being replaced, a deep maroon velvet.
Let’s not be too quick to judge this as inconsequential.
With several new families attending and a couple of them being elected to congregational leadership, I observed excitement and commitment to ministry and to the future of this congregation. What I didn’t see, because it wasn’t being talked about, at least to me, was the change taking place; a different way of setting up for coffee hour, a room with fine furniture and a new carpet being used for small meetings and refreshments rather than being reserved for the woman’s guild gatherings, and the fine china being brought out for less than momentous occasions.
Yes, I thought, I have only been seeing the new people being assimilated and beginning to become involved in leadership, finding their way, and have been blind to the many little things that other members, including some who have been parishioners all of their lives, have been graciously letting go. It’s not about color, I thought, and wondered what else I had been missing.
Seeking Answers Early – By Rev. Alan Mead
At a dinner party the other night a vestry member asked me if the interim time really needs to be so long. He said his sister in another parish was on a search committee and they took almost two years. He shook his head sadly and asked, “will it have to take us that long when our rector retires?”
The dinner party was at the home of the rector who has just returned from a three month sabbatical, and who everyone expects will retire soon, although he has made no communication regarding when. Speculation is alive and well, and since people now know that I am a retired priest with interim experience, I am being asked this and other questions about what will happen when he does retire.
I replied that many congregations take less time than that, although some take longer. He then asked me if they couldn’t begin the process before the rector retired, indicating that was a sound business model. Our conversation continued for several minutes. Rather than attempting to change his mind or teach him all about transition 101, I listened and asked questions hoping to have him think for himself about options and possibilities. It is interesting, though, that with retirement one, two or more years away, individuals are becoming anxious about what will happen.
Finding Our Place – By Rev. Alan Mead
The intimacy I felt being with Pat, sitting beside her in the pew and worshiping, singing and praying together, was unexpected. It seemed we were sharing something more deeply than I could imagine or even understand, and I would find myself touching her hand and, occasionally we would hold hands, almost secretly, shyly; but with great joy.
It was fun to choose different pews, sometimes sitting on the right side, sometimes on the left, sometimes toward the back and often just front of middle on the side. And although we had been meeting people, as we explored this new dimension of our life together, we remained rather anonymous, and found that after three months we hadn’t really made new friends, and were still mostly strangers and would be asked by a greeter if we were visiting today.
And I wrestled internally with a nudging feeling of being in the wrong place. As the celebrant said the words of the liturgy I found myself saying them also, in my mind and even on my lips, words from the liturgy that welcomed people and proclaimed grace and hope, words that were centuries old, silently formed on my lips as they were said by the celebrant. This, also, was an intimacy for me as I transitioned into retirement, and I realized that this part of my journey would continue, for even though retired from being a pastor, I remained forever a priest.
Finding A Worship Home – By Rev. Alan Mead
When I retired and we moved to Virginia Beach, we looked around for a parish to attend. After driving to several, loving the music at one, the majesty of worship at another, feeling out of place in yet another, we simply chose the one that was closest, within walking distance. It was a novel experience for us, choosing a congregation where we would make our spiritual home. It was more involved than I would have thought, and my primary concern, having been the driver in the past, since the congregations where we worshiped had always been the ones that had called me as their rector, was that I wanted Pat to have a choice.
We actually dressed down a little, with me wearing sandals and regular shirt with no tie and, for the first time in many years, no clerical collar. It was also the first time in many years where we were not known, not instantly identified and at the center. Fitting in, feeling welcome and becoming part of this community, was more involved and complicated than I expected. The experience gave me new insight into what everyone else goes through as they walk into a place of worship for the first time. We were anonymous. And we enjoyed sitting together in the pews, singing and praying together, being another new couple rather than the pastor and his wife.
One Moment of Decision – By Rev. Alan Mead
Although we make choices and decisions constantly there are moments when we stand at a crossroad and our choice will set us on a different path. Sometimes we may have more than one of these life changing decisions. When I reflect on my life I find that each one of these decisions, where a clear choice was made, is remembered with clarity. One such moment, for me, was my decision to leave settled ministry and accept a call to an interim position.
I had attended a conference by Roy Oswald, learning about Transition Companions and then began working with a nearby congregation as they prepared for the retirement of their rector. I enjoyed it and saw something positive coming from my experience. I was also frustrated in my current position and had been actively seeking a different call; but nothing had worked out. I was in the interview process with a congregation that excited and energized me, and during that process I was asked by a judicatory if I would consider an interim position in a nearby diocese. I said maybe and began an interview process with that congregation. It was a much more challenging situation and would only last a year, which when I was honest with myself frightened me.
Both congregations extended a call to me at the same time. Everything was different. The settled congregation was growing, had an exciting worship space in an attractive location, and offered a lovely home in a beautiful setting. The interim congregation was larger, in a changing center city setting, had no available housing, and would finish in a year. On the surface I would have thought it an easy decision; but for me it wasn’t. I was wrestling with it. One morning, before leaving for work, Pat and I embraced and, out of the blue she said softly, “I am ready for the unsettled.” With those simple words something clicked in me and I said, “So am I,” and in that instant a decision was made and our journey on this different path began, a journey that has been filled with blessing.