Harder than granite: Pastoral transitions in the shadow of the pandemic

Rev. Ashlee Alley Crawford


In any season, making a pastoral transition brings with it challenges and opportunities. In a pandemic (even one with a hopeful trajectory), those challenges and opportunities are amplified. Grief is always a part of leaving (and maybe even sometimes in going), and in the complications of COVID, that grief is compounded. Can churches adequately celebrate and say goodbye to their pastor when much of the last year has been distanced or virtual? Can pastors have personal conversations to help them bring closure to a season of ministry? And what about starting a new ministry season -- How do churches get to know their new pastor via Facebook, YouTube or Zoom? And will a pastor be able to meet people and get to know their community with reduced (or at least distanced) in-person gatherings. 

Moving is hard. If hard were a spectrum, pandemic moving would be granite. 

As dozens of pastors and churches prepare for a pastoral transition this summer, we want to invite you to consider the following five things as you seek to pass — and receive — the baton this summer: 

Don’t forget the basics: When someone is actively mourning the loss of a family member, we tell them to remember the basics, like: don’t forget to eat, drink plenty of water, do your best to sleep, or at least rest, it’s OK to move slowly. In this season, I’ll echo that advice -- in this season of grief and change don’t forget the basics: keep doing the things essential to life, the things that will remind you of your humanness. 

Recognize the needs of your own soul: It becomes tempting to just spring into “work mode” during a season of transition. So, on the flip side of remembering your humanness, don’t forget to keep doing things that remind you of your soul as well. Most of the time during transition, we tend to make a list, check off boxes, and get ‘er done, but right now we’re collectively moving through what’s been a very anxious and challenging year. Your soul may have some different needs than you’ve known in other times of transition. Take some time each day to check in with yourself and with God. Be as kind and courteous to yourself as you would be to a beloved friend and see how you’re doing and what you need in this season. Then, be generous to yourself and give yourself what you need. God will meet you in that space that you create.  

Finish well: If this isn’t your first move, many of the things that you’ve done in the past will be the same, just modified. Finishing well means saying goodbye, honoring the relationships and work in your current season. It means celebrating God’s faithfulness in your season of ministry together and set the things in motion to pass the baton to your successor. It means communicate, communicate, communicate to everyone, in all the ways, being straightforward and transparent. While it could be tempting to hide behind “the pandemic” or “the transition,” in this season, finishing well also means being courageous about what God is calling you to do as a leader in Christ’s church. 

Start well: There are many resources that can guide you through starting in your new context. Our friends at the Lewis Center have an excellent supplement for transitions during COVID-19. Also this is just great advice anytime. In our Great Plains Conference, we have put together a guide for your First 100 Days and a Transition Team. Remember to be patient with yourself and your new congregation as you lean into a new season of life and ministry together. 

Trust God’s guidance in this transition: I can’t help but think about the call that God gave to Abram in Genesis 12: “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” (Genesis 12:1). I might have asked, “OK, God, where exactly is that? How will I know?” And yet, according to this story of Patriarch Abram/Abraham, he did it. And God showed him: “the Lord appeared to Abram, and said, “to your offspring I will give this land” (Genesis 12:7). It was just 6 verses, but it was more than 600 miles across ancient highways and over mountainous regions for God to show Abram. If it was me, I might have been tempted to think I was “there” a little earlier. But in that time of “going,” Abram was learning to be obedient. (We all know the story ends with him needing to ahem, learn the lesson again — Genesis 12:10-20; 16:1-16, 20:1-18). Ultimately, Abraham learned how to heed God’s words and stop interjecting with his own solution. As you look ahead to your next appointment, how can you have the posture of Abram and learn to “go to the place where God will show you?” Can you approach everything with curiosity — how has your new community navigated this last year? How are they doing? Where do they see God in their present circumstances? And, for you, can you trust God in the transition? 

As a way of sharing together in this season, we’ll be hosting three conversations for pastors in transition that will be recorded and shared. You can learn more here. While moving certainly is hard, and pandemic moving is granite-hard, there are gorgeous things that come out of granite that last well beyond one’s lifetime. May the hardness of this season prepare a beautiful witness to God’s guidance and your obedience. 

Take a look at our Pastoral Transitions page for videos and article on specific topics for your transition. 

If you’d like to take a deeper look into cultivating resilience during this season, listen in to Texas Methodist Foundation’s podcast, Reservoirs of Resilience (or on Google Play or Apple Podcasts). For more, read Bishop Janice Riggle Huie’s reflection on hope, courage, and purpose: Reservoirs of Resilience in Uncertain Times