The experience of parish transition spans a wide and vast emotional spectrum. Currently in the diocese, there are 20+ parishes in active transition (i.e. parishes that do not have a “settled” priest). Some parishes are positioned very well to absorb the effects of clergy leadership changes. But other parishes may not be as well positioned to weather the winds of such changes. For these parishes, transition is fraught with anxiety and frustration further exacerbated with a sense of urgency to get back to normal.
While the winds of clergy leadership change may be daunting, they need not be debilitating. Transition provides exciting opportunities for growth and healing, especially through reflecting upon the identity of the parish. What has been the identity of the parish in the past? What is the current identity of the parish? What is the identity that God is calling the parish to develop and live into? Truly, if the experience of parish transition is embraced with an openness to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the experience can weave a richness of texture within the fabric of parish identity that may have never been imagined!
The experience of parish transition also provides an opportunity for not only nurturing healthy relationships, but also healing broken and fractured relationships. Community Counselor, Christine Langley-Obaugh suggests that, “We repeat what we don’t repair,” implying that any and all elephants in the room need to be acknowledged and managed if there is to be any movement towards healthy relationship development. Normalizing dysfunctional behavior further develops a dysfunctional parish DNA that, if not addressed, can lead to a toxic environment that is far from life giving, but rather anxiety producing. Addressing these elephants in the room can breed healing and ultimately stimulate personal growth in new and profound ways.
Again, the experience of parish transition can be daunting, but it does not need to become debilitating. During this Pentecost season, if your parish is currently experiencing transition, invite the winds of the Holy Spirit to blow upon you guiding you towards spaces of exploring your identity and developing healthy relationships with God, others, and self.
The Rev. Dr. Robert Phillips
Canon for Leadership Development and Congregational Care