I have long been a student of human behavior. Even as a kid I can remember thinking about how people said goodbye in such different ways. Whenever Dad called the house from work and one of us kids answered, he was pretty cut and dry. He stated the purpose of his call, asked his questions and hung up. I hardly ever remember my dad formally saying goodbye. Even when I watched him at work, taking orders over the phone, he would conclude the call with something like, “Well, Ok then” and drop the receiver.
My mother made much more of a production of saying goodbye. She would insist on a hug and kiss on the cheek, and demand reciprocation. She lingered over the goodbyes she gave her children and grandchildren. You could not in good conscience depart her home without participating in the goodbye ritual.
My Grandad’s second wife, Della, whom we never called anything other than her first name, was a cheek pincher, kisser and hugger in the ways of goodbye. I still feel a bit squeamish remembering those embarrassing leave takings as a pre-adolescent. I would try to sneak past without being drawn into her bosom for that farewell ritual, taking some of her old lady perfume with me through the rest of the day!
How do you say goodbye? I once heard of what’s called a “Minnesota goodbye”. It’s a goodbye, after a visit, which lasts quite some time and covers quite a bit of household geography. You might start the goodbye in the living room, extend it to the kitchen, the front or back door landing, only to continue it outdoors on the stoop, by the car, and then over a lengthy waving ritual as the car drives away.
Then there’s the “tear off the band aide” goodbye. You just get it over with, all the while holding back tears, words or touch; offering a half-hearted gesture of farewell followed by a quick turn of the heel to depart. The thinking is, it will still hurt, but just get it on with it.
Other goodbyes include those attempted with humor or insults. These are usually goodbyes born of hurt and disappointment. We can’t believe so and so is leaving us, so we take a poke or swipe at them on the way out. These are unfortunate glibly offered goodbyes that may cast a pall of revelation about how much the relationship was truly valued.
Then there are the silent goodbye, the avoided goodbye, the angry goodbye and the absent goodbye. None of which are very satisfactory in fulfilling the function of a healthy goodbye.
How do you say goodbye? Have you considered it? Because I have, and I am. You see, I’ve just begun the process of saying goodbye to a congregation of people whom I love, and a community I have deeply appreciated. We’ve had a fifteen year run together as pastor and people. We’ve laughed, wept, agreed and disagreed, worshipped, sung, prayed, planned, traveled, rejoiced and grieved together. A lot of water (some of it literal) has gone under the bridge. These folks have put up with me when I was cranky, comforted me when I was sad, prayed for me when I was sick; and given me the privilege of being their pastor. They’ve loved my family and walked with us through good and hard times. It hurts to leave them, even as I know it is necessary I do so in order to follow God’s call.
You see, I believe it is hard to say “hello” unless you’ve said “goodbye”, and wanting to honor those I love by finishing well; I choose to say goodbye with purpose and intention. I choose to be honest, to ask forgiveness where I have caused pain (knowingly or unknowingly), and to forgive those who have (knowingly or unknowingly) hurt me. I choose to say “thank you” again and again for the partnership in the Gospel we have known and shared. I choose to acknowledge the many contributions this congregation has made to my family, my person, our household and story. I choose to endure whatever ways they may feel a need to say goodbye to me, recognizing that I have been long ahead in my thinking and absorbing this change in relationship. And I choose to “let go” and to “give permission” for them to welcome a new shepherd (transitional and called) who will pick up the work and love them as I have.
The Covenant and Code of Ethics of the Ministers Council of American Baptist Churches USA, which I have signed and strive to uphold, states that “I will, upon my resignation or retirement discontinue my ministerial leadership roles with my former constituents and will not make ministerial contacts in the field of another ministerial leader without request and/or consent.” Sometimes persons find this confusing or troublesome and they will want to negotiate your return for a funeral or wedding. The intent is to let go, acknowledging the changed relationship, and allow the one who is called next the same courtesy and opportunity to become the pastoral leader that I enjoyed for such a good tenure. As I say goodbye, I will be your friend and your brother in Christ, but no longer your pastor.
All of this talk of “goodbye” is due to a “hello” I’m anticipating in a few more weeks. I will be saying “hello” to a new post, a new position, new partnerships and new challenges as I take on the call of Executive Minister of the American Baptist Churches of the Dakotas. I’m grateful the folk there agreed to give me the time to finish well. For that is what I choose to do.