Celestial Lands The Religious Crossroads of Politics, Power, and Theology

Without Change, Something Sleeps Inside Us… Ministry in the Transitions

My life has been one of change.  Change both within and without.  That reality affects my preaching, it affects how I build relationships, it affects how I look at the universe.  As I have been reflecting on this past year, I have been struck by how much change was within it… and how that change has felt normal to me.  In truth, it begs the question… what would I do with a year that did not have as much change?

It is a question I’ve been asking a lot recently, as Sandy and I consider staying in Southern California for the foreseeable future.

I grew up moving around a lot.  My father was in the military, and for years his work consisted of short term assignments around the world.  I went to three different kindergartens.  Three years was the longest I had ever lived anywhere until I was 14 years old.  At 18 I joined the military, and from that point on never lived anywhere more than 2 years straight.  Not until I was in my early 30’s in Galveston, Texas.  I’ve lived in 13 different states, and in 6 different countries.  That does not count up all the times I’ve moved within a state…

This year involved another such move… a long one.  This year, Sandy and I moved from Central Michigan to Southern California, to follow my career and to serve our UU Church in Ventura, CA.  I won’t say we loved Michigan, but we certainly liked it a lot when it was not covered in snow.  The congregation I served there was great, and Sandy loved the town of Midland.

And yet, after a year, I was beginning to get restless.  When time came to move on, I was ready.  More than ready.

I’ve been giving a lot of thought as to why this is… why I seem to not only thrive on but crave change.  I’ve come to the conclusion that it is not just about change of location, although that has been one of the primary ways I’ve experienced it.  It is about change of circumstances.  It has been about a constant desire for the new… for “A Universe of Surprises” as Frank Herbert put it.

A while ago, I was talking about this with Sandy, my wife… because if there is anyone most affected by this tendency of mine to seek change it is certainly her.  In her way of quiet wisdom that I adore, she said that this motive toward change in me has to do with the fact that I don’t sit still well.  Now, she did not mean physically still… I did learn to do that through Zen… she meant my spirit.  At my core, I’m restless.

That conversation has led me to some realizations about my ministry, why I’m so drawn to congregations in some kind of transition.  In Midland, Michigan the congregation was in the obvious transition of Interim Ministry, but was also in some of the final transitional phases of moving from being a family model congregation to being a pastoral model congregation.  Here in Ventura, we are moving from being a strong and very successful pastoral model congregation into being a program church.

And I love it.  Both the environment and the work of that transition feeds my spirit and soul.  I love to envision the new, and to be surprised by how it develops.  I love the work of teaching and transforming understandings.  I love watching a system shift.  I even love the inevitable crises, conflicts, and turmoil that always comes with transition and transformation.

A few weeks ago, I was speaking with a friend and mentor in ministry, a retired minister about his ministerial career.  He said, looking back on all the congregations he had served, he realized that his ministry had always been about congregational healing.  He realized that each congregation he had served had been wounded in one way or another, and that his work with them had been to heal the wounds, and then move on.  To let them move forward whole, but with another minister.

He said how much he wished he’d realized this about his ministry early on.

I am “early on” in my ministry… and am wondering if perhaps I’ve been given the gift of seeing the essence of my call.  Perhaps my restless spirit and deep desire for a Universe of Surprises could lead me to a ministry within the transitions…

Yours in Faith,

Rev. David



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