Saturday, May 05, 2012

Grace-filled Transitions

So Long, Farewell: Grace-filled Transitions Ashland Times Gazette, 1939 Adjutant and Mrs. Frederick Elliot yesterday received orders to “farewell” from the Ashland Citadel tomorrow. The Elliots have been ordered to take charge of the Toledo Citadel Corps not later than next Thursday. Times have changed since Fred and Elizabeth, our predecessors, packed up their children and belongings and headed off to Toledo, Ohio. Thankfully, we have more than one week to pack and clean in today’s Army, but leave we must. While the timing may have changed, the pain associated with farewells remains a constant, echoing the words of Frederick: “We deeply regret the fact that we have to leave Ashland” (Times Gazette XXXVIII, 120, 1939). Their public angst surprised me, for the Salvation Army culture of their day encouraged the officers to maintain an emotional detachment from their soldiers and appointment. An officer was to be “interchangeable,” ready for reassignment as needed, as often as once a year. Yet in the twenty-first century, the pastor who strives to maintain a dignified distance between herself and her flock has been nudged aside by the leader described by Commissioner Israel Gaither: vulnerable, transparent, and remaining closely connected to those in their charge (Caring, Dec. 2005, 8). As small groups, relational evangelism, and incarnational ministry become a larger component of Army work, how does that change the way we face officer transitions, that dreaded (or welcomed) phone call that says, “you’re being farewelled”? Certainly, pulling up stakes from an appointment is more complicated than it was for Fred and Elizabeth. The business component of officership is much more complex than it was in the past, and the paradigm of ministry has shifted since the days when officers were encouraged to hold themselves aloft from their soldiers. When relationships with soldiers, neighbors, board members and employees have been deeply nurtured, we cannot announce that we are being transferred, and leave no forwarding address. We’ve loved our people, invested in their lives, and have become richly connected. Paul described the bond like this: “It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart . . . all of you share in God’s grace with me” (Phil. 1:7, TNIV). And in another passage, he wrote: “Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well . . . But, brothers and sisters, when we were orphaned by being separated from you for a short time (in person, not in thought), out of our intense longing we made every effort to see you (I Thess. 2). Adding to the relational difficulty is the lack of choice in the transition. In the early decades of the twentieth century, most people had little choice over where they lived, what they did for a living, or the kind of cereal they ate. Elizabeth and Frederick did not expect to have many choices on any given day. In contemporary culture, choice is king in hundreds of ways each day, yet the appointment process continues to be driven by the decisions of Army leaders who may not know the implications of a move to a particular family or location. The departing officer(s) may not have been consulted about the move, and the newly appointed officers may not sense it is time to them to leave their place of service. Most likely, nobody asked the congregation, staff or board if this was a good time for a change, and so all face a transition that they had no control over. A third consideration is that many in our congregations struggle with separation due to their own background and family systems that provided little stabilty. While some of those attracted to the Army come because of the opportunities for ministry, many, if not most new participants, come because they need what the Army has to offer, which is unconditional acceptance. Often, those who feel left out in other relationships – yes, and even other churches - find a home at The Sal. And now that home is being torn apart. Mommy and Daddy are abandoning them – one more time. While we recognize that a parent/child relationship is not a healthy one, and want to help the “child” to mature, the dynamics are still at work, and the results of an abrupt move without adequate preparation and support through the transition can be devastating for the more fragile among our people. What can help in the transition? Consultation remains a desired component of the process for most officers, a subject that certainly needs further exploration. But when the decision is made, are there systemic ways that the change in officers can be managed so as to make the transition smoother for all involved? The wisdom of our elders is often found in the Orders and Regulations for Officers, and there is a section on predecessor and successor. Early editions of the O & R addressed this subject more in depth, but by 1997, the section on transitions simply starts with this statement: “The relationship between predecessor and successor should be one of mutual respect and understanding and, for the sake of the Kingdom and those served by the appointment, any temptation to engage in criticism should be strongly resisted.” However, there are some unwritten “rules” that tend to circulate from time to time. A common one is that there is to be no contact allowed between the former officer and the soldiers for one year following departure. However, when I went to search for that regulation, I couldn’t find it. The closest I came was from the O & R of 1960 (Chapter III, Sec. 3, 442): An officer, after farewelling, should not encourage unauthorized visitors from his former command. To do so would not only weaken the hands of his successor by the absence of such comrades, but would also tend to unsettle the runaways themselves. Fortunately, by 1997 (when this was first written)the “runaways” label is gone, and all that remains on the subject is this: “After leaving an appointment, an officer should refrain from any further involvement that might prejudice his or her successor’s work.” But what does that mean? Will a weekly e-mail or reading a blog prejudice my successor’s work? What about a shared cup of coffee a couple of times a year with a staff member? Can I attend the wedding of a board member? When a distraught teen calls late at night, how do I respond? An officer friend spoke of a strained relationship with her successor, and said, “When Sharon called to tell me her mother was dying, I wanted to jump in the car and go to be with her, but was afraid it would cause friction with the other officer. I was forced to choose between abandoning a dear friend at a tragic time or offending my successor.” How can we make these changes work to glorify God? What might supplement the counsel of the O & R to ease the transition for the officers and the people of the corps? Here are a few possibilities: *Welcome conversation. Out of respect to the congregation, staff and board, conversations surrounding the process and the impact of the transition can be welcomed and facilitated. In some situations, it may be appropriate for headquarters staff to meet with the corps council and/or advisory board to provide background to the decision, and to discuss the strengths of the in-coming officers and the vision for future ministry. Such a discussion could also provide information about the differing styles of leadership among officers, and the role of the headquarters in resolving any difficulties the corps experiences during the transition. *Timing. Might it be possible to lengthen the time between the announcement of the move and the actual transfer date, as is done in the UK? With the extent of business and ministry arrangement to be made in some appointments as well as family concerns, five weeks may not be adequate preparation time for the practical issues of relocating, nor for the relational work that needs to be done in the transition. This was apparent to us in our most recent move, as our young adult sons, still living with us for economic reasons, had to find a place to live in a month’s time, quite a feat when their choice was to purchase a house. *A teaching opportunity. The transition itself can become a learning occasion for our people. Change happens, and at times it is out of our control. A job is lost, the house burns down, or the dog runs away. We can model ways of approaching change with grace, even if it is unexpected and/or unwelcome. *Praying our good-byes. When we left our last corps appointment, we shared an evening with soldiers and staff that focused on praying our good-byes, taking its outline from the book by the same name by Catholic nun Joyce Rupp. Our goal was to talk honestly about loss and departure, and to provide some tools for facing loss. *Interaction. The incoming officers can be invited to have some interaction with staff, soldiers and board prior to their arrival. In one appointment, because of proximity, we were able to attend a board meeting prior to our arrival, and the out-going officer graciously introduced us to the people we would be working with. *Transfer of spiritual leadership. Might there be value in a public transfer of the mantle, a handing over of the key? When Moses gave the leadership of the people of Israel to Joshua, the public blessing of his successor is a powerful scene (Dt. 31-33). Our tradition provides for a public farewell and then a public welcome, but not a Moses/Joshua coming together. *Positive comment. In an attempt to speak positively of both predecessor and successor, wise counsel suggests the following comment: The Shades are close friends of ours, and we very much appreciate the ministry they had here, and intend to build on their work (or look forward to how they will bring their gifts to this corps). *Take your time. Unless there are serious difficulties, most changes can wait a few months before being made. Listen for the dreams of the people of the corps. Get to know them. Hear their stories. You may find out that the painting in the back of the chapel that you think is rather ugly and would like to trash was the final work of a beloved retired YPSM who died tragically. Aren’t you glad you listened? *Choose mercy. When a grieving family would like the former officer to participate in the funeral for their matriarch, be gracious. It’s not about whether they like you – it’s about their grief, and their desire to have the comfort of one who knows them and who knew the deceased. *Remember the children. The children of the officer, as well as those of the congregation, are struggling with the move as well. A few weeks after our arrival at our current appointment, we invited the corps family to our quarters for a Sunday night vespers service. Five year old Zoe wanted to go upstairs so she could play with Lizzie and Rachael (the children of the previous officers). She was missing her friends, and didn’t quite understand that they didn’t live here anymore. If officer children have remained in town, welcome them at the corps, and be understanding if they choose to find another church. Keep them on the mailing list – don’t forget them. *Give it time. Allow for grieving. People are sad when they have to say good-bye to someone they love. In time, they will form close relationships with you, and each of you will be beloved. *Search your heart. When the transition is difficult, consider, is jealousy or envy at work? If you’re not sure, check out your reactions with an uninvolved friend. Maybe you are overly sensitive, and need to seek repentance, but perhaps there are some bizarre things going on. *Seek the oil of the Holy Spirit. At a recent officers’ retreat, Major Mark Tillsley reminded us that oil is used to symbolize the relational healing of the Holy Spirit, even among officers. “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity. It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard . . . (Psalm 133:1-2). This oil can be offered by a caring mediator or divisional leader, who desires to see fractured relationships between officers healed. Regardless of orders and regulations, congregational preparation, and administrative oversight, a healthy transition depends upon the health and holiness of the officers involved. When envy and jealousy rule, the transition will be awkward at best and devastating to our people at worst. When a spirit of honesty, generosity and mercy pervades the relationships, God will be honored and our people will flourish. *Choose gratitude. Years before I was born, Elizabeth and Frederick Elliot prepared a foundation in Ashland, Ohio that stands to this day, both on the corner of Third and Center, and in the heart of this corps [and now at the wonderful new Kroc Center. Many came before them, and others followed, ready to serve God in their own unique way. I’m grateful for their faithfulness, and for the God who continues to be faithful through the changing days. Perhaps a note of thanks to one or two of those faithful officers would provide just the encouragement they need for another day of ministry. I (Paul) planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. . . The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. For we are God’s co-workers; you are God’s field, God’s building. I Cor. 3:5, 8-9

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