One of our trainers in Arizona was Sandra Clark Colb, who has written this piece for the Vital Practices website. She made this same point several times in Arizona and it bears further reflection, particularly these words:
Understanding the difference between change and transition is important. Change is the event itself - it occurs at a specific point in time - an "outward and visible sign." Transition is a psychological process; the internal response people have to the change. It is "inward and spiritual" and occurs in three stages: ending (letting go of the old), in-between time (wilderness), and a new beginning. It starts when the congregation learns their rector is leaving and continues until it seems as though the new rector has been there all along.Change is the event itself. On May 19, a specific point in time, I will be leaving St. Francis Church. They have graciously given me eleven days off, before I begin on June 1 in a new role as Canon to the Ordinary in the Diocese of Western Massachusetts. Both are moments in time: a final celebration and the accompanying goodbyes followed by a first day in a new office. Changes.
But transition is not dateable. It takes much longer. Transition, according to Colb (and I think she is right!) is an inward, psychological (and spiritual) process. It's how we deal with and manage change. She identifies three stages: ending, in-between time (wilderness) and a new beginning. It would be tempting to see transition as beginning on May 19 and ending on June 1, with "wilderness" lasting eleven days in between. But that is to misread the point that Colb is making. In my case, the new beginning will come when it seems like I've been Canon to the Ordinary for some time and the Bishop and his staff are all working like we've been doing this forever. In the case of the parish I love, St. Francis, the new beginning will come not when a new rector arrives, but when it seems that s/he has been there all along. That could take a while, if my own experience is any measure.
And so there is "the meantime." There is this wilderness time, a time some may be tempted to resist. I think it is important to note a few things about the wilderness as it is presented in Holy Scripture, however. One is that God's people spend a lot of time there. In the Torah (the holiest five books of the Hebrew Bible) basically 80% of it (from Exodus to the end of Deuteronomy) takes place in the wilderness. And second, God is there. God is there giving Torah, and daily bread, and water from the flinty rock. God is there, leading the way by the pillar of cloud and fire. The wilderness is the place where spiritual formation and growth happen.
Which is simply to say that for me and the people of St. Francis Church (and the people of the Diocese of Western Massachusetts who are still getting used to a new bishop) we are entering a season of transition, not just a series of changes. May God lead us through it all and may we come out at the other end of it as more faithful followers of Jesus.