Saturday, October 17, 2009

grieving loss as the reality of change is processed

I’ve struggled with depression all week. I know that for some, Christianity is a victory lap. That’s fine. It’s simply that for me, this week, Christianity has been the suffering Christ. Such has been the shape of my week, a week of grieving over the implications of the Taylor family decision to go on mission to Australia (see here and here). On Monday it was the realisation of so many dreams that are not yet reality: Stage 3 of the building project, the family hub, the future of Grow, developing leaders, culture-making days, making bible days digital and youth-engaged. While what God has done at Opawa in last 6 years (part-time, 0.6/week) has been beyond all that I could dream and imagine, there are still more dreams, unfulfilled and I grieve as I hear God’s call is for me to lay them down.

On Wednesday it was a Laidlaw student, who had been dreaming of doing a Masters with me on the topic of the emerging church.

On Friday, it was pulling up at Opawa and seeing the new building project and realising that what I have helped lead and fundraise for over the last 2 years, I am unlikely to enjoy. We were promised a build in 3 months. The project started in early July. It is now October, the hammering continues and the talk is currently early December for the offices, and late February for the foyer cafe. It feels nuts to be leaving a cafe I will never enjoy.

On Saturday (today), it was a planning meeting with regard to a administrative staff transition and realising that a future I had planned for, had worked toward, was suddenly taking shape exactly as I had envisaged. Again, I will not see the fruit of it.

It’s grief. I imagine this is what those who look at death face: a grandchild they will never see turn 21, a graduation they will miss, the realisation that life is moving on and I will not be part of it. As I began, for some, Christianity is a victory lap. It’s simply that for me, this week, Christianity is the suffering Christ.

Since I am on the topic of grieving loss, for those who are interested, here is how we processed the leaving with family and leadership.

Early June: We are phoned, asking to please consider the Missiology position. They have advertised, interviewed, considered candidates, twice already. They really think I have what the position will require.

Early/mid August: I am asked to interview for the position. So I communicate, in confidence, with Laidlaw leadership and with the Opawa Church Board, that this possibility has emerged. I invite them to consider with me the impact on them if this change were to proceed.

Late August: Discussions happen with Laidlaw leadership and with Opawa Church Board. Together, especially with Opawa Board, we process the impact on Opawa. A wise and generous Board remind us that our dominant consideration must always be the call of God. They are convinced that the momentum at Opawa: around multiple congregations, ministry lead team and outward focus, will continue.

Early September: We talk with our family, both our 2 children and other family members. We process the decision with a number of external leaders we respect and admire.

Mid-September: We meet again with the Opawa Church Board. Together we start to process how we will make the decision public, including the written and verbal statements.

One by one, over the next few days, we take the paid Opawa staff out for lunch/drinks/dinner. This is tough. These are our friends, people we have recruited to the team. We communicate our sense of call and are humbled by their generosity and goodwill.

A few days later, on Friday and Saturday, as the weekend approaches, we enter a crazy schedule. We make a list of ministry leaders, key people in our initial call process, close friends. Saturday we visit between 9 am and 9 pm, asking for their confidence, but wanting to tell them personally. We are emotionally drained. We run out of time and have to email a few people.

Sunday and Tuesday: We face all the congregations and explain our decision. We also have a written letter, knowing the shock means that much information will not sink it. At each congregation, a Board member speaks after us, prayerfully commending us and the church to God. We ask each congregation to keep it to themselves, allowing us the opportunity to tell people face to face. Sunday morning is the worst. I cry heaps and feel quite stupid.

Wednesday: The letter is sent to those not around over the weekend. We also write a separate letter to people who have done part of the journey with us at Opawa but who, for various reasons, have moved on. We feel they need to hear the news from us, and want to thank them for their partnership.

Saturday: Uniting College have now made their announcement, including on the web. Hence we now feel free to post the news on the internet.

Mid-October: At a church meeting, some 3 weeks after our announcement, we ask for time to explain a bit more about where were are going. People have begun to process the news and might be in a position to focus a bit more on the nature of our call. We show a video, made by Uniting College, that narrates some of their hopes and dreams. It seems to go well, with people grasping the sense of mission we feel. At that meeting, the process for calling a new Senior Pastor begins. Someone else will get to work in a new office, enjoy coffees in the foyer cafe, appreciate an outward looking church, a work alongside a cohesive and talented leadership team! Such are the ways of God. This is God’s church, not mine. The dreams are God’s work, not mine. Such is the way of the suffering Christ.

Posted by steve at 09:05 PM


  1. Steve, having left some places to go to others, I understand your mixture of grief and anticipation. Your ministry, as I have followed it through this blog and your book, has the ring of authenticity born of God’s love. May it continue to be so in your new place of service. Thoughts, prayers, and hopes of people like me who know you through your writing go with you. Please continue to connect through this site or another. Every blessing, Chuck

    Comment by Chuck Warnock — October 17, 2009 @ 10:56 pm

  2. For what it is worth, Steve I too understand a little of what you are saying. It has been similar for my dad leaving principalship at Hillview. So much he thought he would be around to see but the need to move on before some things have taken place. The grief for me too thinking that my dad would still be principal when my younger children started school and yet the realisation that he will probably not even be at the school when my youngest starts. It reminds me of our past miscarriages – dreams you have that will never come to fruition but out of those miscarriages came other children that I treasure and cherish that I would never have got to know if not for the loss of the others. As you leave one unfinished mission you are led to one you would never get to experience had you stayed where you were. Blessings for your next adventure!

    Comment by Karen — October 17, 2009 @ 11:03 pm

  3. No wonder you look exhausted. Glad you have a holiday planned. Last week I spoke to our elders and described my feelings as torn between my home church and exploring something new. They didn’t want me to feel torn and were gracious but it still describes my feelings and we are only looking at moving a few kms. Being a pioneer is hard as well as exciting. Praying for you all as you walk the farewell journey

    Comment by Jo Wall — October 18, 2009 @ 7:31 am

  4. Steve, sad as we are at your leaving, we salute the gracious and thoughtful way you are handling it all. The grief is real(for us as a church and as individuls). Your latest blog reminds me of 2 Corinthians 6:10 “Our heats ache, but we always have joy. We are poor, but we give spiritual riches to others. We own nothing, and yet we have everything”. Following the leading of the Crucified has never been easy, but He is the God of all comfort. Praying for you all as a family, s well as for those you will leave behind when you go. Maureen

    Comment by Maureen — October 19, 2009 @ 7:07 am

  5. Steve, this posting is a fine example of what I so appreciate about this blog…the honest grappling with what it means to be a follower of Jesus……. drawing deeply on the Scriptures and theology, engaging with culture, and in the middle of it, being very human. It is a generous gift to us who are allowed in on your thinking processes, even if at times at times your transparency is risky. Thanks so much!

    Comment by kerry — October 19, 2009 @ 11:34 am

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