There are many transitions taking place in the church I currently serve–including the end of my ministry on April 30. In the midst of times like these, one can’t help but think about change as a general concept we encounter in our lives. For we know that change, as disorienting as it may feel at times, is a constant in life. Furthermore, the times of the most change also hold the most potential for growth.
There’s a classic book that addresses change called Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes by William Bridges (an English Professor turned expert in the field of Transitional Management.) Bridges maintains that transitions are about letting go of an old situation, suffering the confusing nowhere of in-betweenness, and then launching forth again in a new situation. Sometimes we may be tempted to let go of the old and launch forth into the new as soon as possible–doing our best to avoid the in-between space because it’s hard, let’s face it! But Bridges cautions that transitions are a natural process of disorientation and then reorientation that mark turning points on the path of growth. Basically, if you truly want to grow–you can’t move past the in-between space (he sometimes uses the term “the neutral zone”) and not engage with the issues and questions you will discover in that space.
“In keeping with our mechanistic bias, we have tried to make do with ‘recharging’ and ‘repair,’ imagining that renewal comes through fixing something defective or supplying something that is missing. But it is only by returning for a time to the formlessness of the primal energy that renewal can take place. The neutral zone is the only source of the self-renewal that we all seek. We need it, just the way that an apple tree needs the cold of winter.” (William Bridges, Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes, 141-142.)
It seems imperative that we stay fully present in the neutral zone. We (as individuals and congregations) must work hard for self-renewal, allowing for disorientation in the meantime. Just as the apple tree needs the dormancy of the winter months, so congregations (and ministers in the midst of a transition!) need to spend time self-reflecting in the in-between space to contemplate who they are and who God is calling them to be in the future. Reorientation (like Resurrection) will come! Staying present in the cold of winter will help new life to spring forth in the future. May it be so.