The Hard-on-the-Heart Work of Saying Goodbye

When I first showed up to serve the Annapolis congregation as the incoming intern there, I was greeted by a lovely hand written note by the previous intern, Christina. Christina shared with me the joy of serving UUCA, how to unstick the desk drawer, where to find the best snacks on Mondays, and why the intern apartment’s water was often yellow (“they say it’s safe to drink, but I don’t,” I remember reading).

I was so grateful for this woman’s personal welcome and immediately felt at home in a space she called the same.

But then Christina never left. To be fair, she was in fact in Chicago, many states and a time zone difference away, but it seemed like the Ghost of Christina lurked in every sermon I preached, every decision I made, wardrobe choice, success or inevitable misstep. “Christina had a similar style to you!” I remember one woman saying relieved. “Christina was surprised by that, but you aren’t. Interesting!” another man pondered. And the more irritating, “Christina started this project. I’m sure you’ll enjoy doing it too.”

I didn’t know this woman, but I started to resent her.*

It’s hard to appreciate while living the rule, but there is good reason that within the UU Ministers Association Guidelines it makes clear that ministers of whatever position, when leaving a congregation, should withhold communication for at least a year. One colleague once said to me – it’s like moving in with your new wife. You go to hang your clothes in the closet but all of her ex’s stuff is still there. There’s no room for you!

Christina’s ghost was a testament to her ministry and I know Anastassia, the intern who came after me, had to do her own work with the Ghost of Kim when she arrived (and Daniel had to work through the Ghost of Anastassia, and on and on it goes). It is the cycle of ministers who are loved and who love their people but who are – as another wise senior colleague has taught generations of us –always interims in the life of any congregation.

It is the hard-on-the-heart work of saying goodbye to someone, even if only for a time, so that our hearts may – however reluctantly – open anew to another minister, another ministry, another season.

And so, like we did with Sue Flynn last year, we will do this work with Hannah in just a few weeks from now. We will say goodbye. We will say thank you. We will wish one another well. We will respect the space she will create anew, without the heart’s distraction to still sit beside you, preach a good word to you, learn along with you. We will say goodbye in a way that testifies to her ministry with us.

Hannah’s last Sunday preaching is this upcoming Sunday, May 12th. Her last Sunday and day with UUCWC is Flower Communion, June 9th.

*Christina is now a dear, dear friend, for whom I am deeply grateful.