Transition — Terrifying or Transfiguring?

September 14, 2015


In the Gospel passage for the Feast of the Transfiguration after Peter, James, and his brother John saw Jesus transfigured, Peter says to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here! Let us make three tents:  one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”  He hardly knew what to say, they were so terrified.

Transition for pastors, as it was for Peter, James and his brother John can be both terrifying and transfiguring, anxiety producing and adventuresome for both pastor and parishioner.  After 19 years serving first as Associate Pastor and then as Pastor it was difficult, demanding and daunting to let go and move on to a new assignment and yet I knew deep down that is was not only time for me to move on, but the very way in which I moved on would allow growth within myself and my (now former) parish.  It would mean letting go and saying good-bye to a faith community that I had invested myself in and was my family for such a long period of time.  It involved grieving and was also a graced time of humility to stand back and realize all that had filled my heart with joy while at the same time realizing that it would all go on without me – a few parts of it maybe not so well, many other aspects far better with new leadership.

As a student of Family Systems Theory (Murray Bowen and Rabbi Ed Friedman) I was aware of two tasks I needed to attend to – first to say good-bye and allow the parish to say good-bye to me, thus allowing parishioners to express their feelings to me and make room in their lives for a new pastor to serve their needs.  To paraphrase Henri Nouwen, “if we don’t say good-bye first we can’t say hello.”  This happened in ways such as a farewell dinner, preaching the Masses my final weekend and affording parishioners to write their remembrances on note cards that were bundled together and given to me to read in the weeks following my departure.  I’ve cherished the memories and the note cards.

Secondly I felt responsible to prepare the parish for my successor setting him up for “success” so that as seamlessly as possible there could be a transference of trust from me to him, and he could provide leadership with as few “ghosts” of his predecessor as possible.  This happened both in formal ways through the bulletin and informally talking about the gifts and talents he would be bringing to the differing leadership councils of the parish.  On my last weekend following communion the two of us stood together at the altar, I handed the book of the Gospels to him entrusting the ministry of proclaiming and preaching that was now his responsibility with these words:

“The Book of the Gospels, as a sign of the presence of Christ in his word proclaimed, is always accorded a place of honor in the Church’s liturgy, venerated above all the books of readings by Church. So clearly is the Book of the Gospels a sign of Christ present in the liturgy, that it is revered with the same holy kiss given to the altar.” (Excerpts from the Introduction to the Book of the Gospels 6-7) As I prepare to end my tenure as Pastor of the Catholic Community of St. Francis of Assisi, and take the next steps on my journey as a Friar I entrust this Book of the Gospels to your new Pastor.  I entrust with ultimate care this Book of the Gospels, may your work among this Catholic Community of St Francis always be grounded in the Gospel, the good news of our Lord Jesus Christ.

It was a simple yet powerful ritual rooted in the vision of Vatican II (Presbyterorum Ordinis) which states the priest’s primary duty is “proclaiming the Gospel of God to all.” A member of the pastoral staff then led parishioners in a prayer of blessing for us and the parish.

There’s always the temptation because “it is so good to be there” to stay in one place, and yet as Jesus moved on so must we all to discover new things about ourselves and to serve the people of God in new and differing ways.

By: Mark G. Reamer, O.F.M., D. Min.,Guardian, St. Bernardine of Siena Friary, Assistant to the President for Franciscan Mission, Loudonville, NY

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