One of the realities of a new pastoral relationship is that it contains not only the excitement of a new beginning but also the grief of an ending. And though we often think of it in terms of how members of the congregation are feeling, there are actually two grief processes going on at the same time.
I became aware of this recently when a couple of different people commented on my preaching. The feedback has been positive but there has been the occasional "what we're used to is..." Initially I found myself getting defensive. I have generally been complimented on my sermons and I was reading it as negative feedback. Of course, that's not what the commenters were saying. They simply said "what we're used to is..." Focusing on the "..." I wanted to review my sermons to see how I wasn't doing enough "..." or talk to Glen and see if he felt I did "..." or look a the sermons of my predecessors to see how they were doing more "..." And then the penny dropped. I was focusing on the "..." when the underlying feeling is carried in the "what we're used to".
When there is a change in pastoral relationship there is an understandable time of making comparisons. As a minister I don't come into a new congregation in a vacuum. There is a history that needs to be honoured, relationships that need to be celebrated, a way of doing things that needs to be affirmed. People miss my predecessors. It's understandable.
Also understandable is that an incoming minister is also doing some of their own grieving. This became real to me recently in a committee meeting. I found myself saying "what I'm used to doing is..." I wasn't trying to say that "..." was done better in my former congregation than in my new one, even though that was how some people in the circle heard me. What I was really saying is "I'm getting used to a new context" as well as "I'm missing what I'm used to". It's not a judgement and on my new congregation. I love this community. These are amazing, warm-hearted, generous, loving people. They have made me feel welcome and appreciated. I hope they feel that I love and appreciate them. At the same time we are all feeling a bit lonesome for friends and mentors.
It takes time to grieve. It also takes time to get to know new people. We can't rush the process of letting go and embracing something new. In the meantime we give each other the benefit of the doubt, knowing that when we say "what I'm/we're used to is..." the focus isn't really on "..." We are really just saying "I miss ..." And that feeling is both real and holy.