5 Steps to Finding Closure: Navigating the Emotional Rollercoaster of Changing Appointments
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This is appointment season in my home denomination, the United Methodist Church. When that new appointment is made, it’s natural to feel a rollercoaster of emotions. Excitement for the future mixes with pangs of grief at the thought of leaving those with whom you’ve built loving relationships. Or perhaps, there’s more than a little bit of relief at leaving a church that wasn’t a great fit.

Is it possible to find closure while navigating an emotional transition as a church leader? Rest assured, grief, or relief or anger or frustration when changing appointments is a natural part of the process. In this article I’ll lay out the steps to finding closure by navigating the emotional rollercoaster of changing appointments.

But before we start looking at ways to find closure at the church you’re leaving, let’s dispel one common misconception: that you and your congregation can quickly shift appointments without any consequences.

A Little Like a Break-Up

In the United Methodist church, you could easily be expected to preach in one location the last Sunday in June, and in the new location the first Sunday of July, without a backward glance. On paper, that’s doable. But in reality, there will be some emotional consequences.

As a clergy person, you pour your heart and soul into your church community. You celebrate baptisms, officiate weddings, hold hands through grief. Your congregants aren’t just names on a church directory; they’re your extended family. So, the news of a new appointment can feel…well, let’s be honest, a little bit like a break-up. There are going to be strong emotions. It’s all perfectly normal, friends. Transitions are tough, and moving on from one church family to another is no exception. That is true whether the relationship was solid and lifegiving, or fractious and challenging.  Either way, you’ll need time to process what happened before you can fully move on.

Just like with any break-up, closure is key.

Navigating My Own Rollercoaster

I served as a pastor for 12 years. My first two appointments were in the Denver area. The metro area seemed to be a good fit for me. I had plenty of friends and connections in the Denver area, important for a single woman like me. So when the Wyoming District Superintendent called me to serve as a pastor in Rawlins Wyoming, I was less than excited. The landscape seemed barren, not to mention the social life, and the largest employer was the state penitentiary. After 12 years in Metro Denver, I wasn’t sure I was cut out for a town with a population of 9500 and what felt like eternal cold wind blowing more than half the year. You can read more about how that phone call changed the trajectory of my life here. I was resistant to change, and afraid of the emotional rollercoaster that came with it.

I made the move though, and these five steps to finding closure helped me do it successfully.

Step 1: Acknowledge Your Feelings: Don’t bottle them up! Talk to your spouse, a trusted friend, or even a therapist. Allow yourself to feel the grief, the confusion, even the anger.

Your feelings are all valid.

You might be feeling relief and excitement about your new appointment. That’s ok; many of us have been there. There are times when we are appointed to a church that wasn’t quite the right fit for us.

You may be feeling that you’d “failed” at your last appointment. But you didn’t fail – and your congregation didn’t fail. You just weren’t right for each other.

And that can happen with any relationship.  So hang on to the feeling of excitement about your new appointment and let the negative feelings of the past go.

Step 2: Celebrate the Journey: Gather photos, write down cherished memories, or organize a farewell potluck. This act of remembering creates a space for gratitude and helps solidify the positive impact you’ve made.

Invite the broader community if you’ve engaged them throughout your time at the church. It’s important for them to know that they were an integral part of your journey too, and that your congregation is in transition.

They can help in ways that you might not even have thought of, being there for your church members in times of need, and welcoming them to community events, even after you’re gone.

Step 3: Focus on the Legacy: You may be leaving, but the seeds you’ve sown will continue to grow. Reflect on the positive changes you’ve helped create in your congregation, the lives touched, the spirits lifted.

That’s your legacy and it’s something of which to be incredibly proud.

Again, if you’re leaving a congregation that didn’t mesh with your style, or one that fought your every new idea, closure can still be hard.  But be encouraged that chances are your next appointment will welcome you with open arms and embrace your special energy, ideas, and empowering action!

Step 4: Leave with Grace: Take the time to have individual conversations with those who’ve been instrumental in your journey. Thank them for their support, share your well wishes, and offer an open door for future connection. Connect with those who were not supporters and thank them for challenging you and opening your mind to new ideas. Whether friend or foe, bless them. In order to do this, you will need to forgive yourself and others for what did not work out well. Clean out your personal papers, and leave a clear paper trail for your successor. It probably goes without saying, but this is not the time to take revenge, teach anyone a lesson, or sabotage their future.

Step 5: Embrace the New Beginning: This change, though it may be bittersweet, is an opportunity for growth. Approach your next congregation with a loving heart and a willingness to learn. If you’ve had a positive experience, made new friends, forged inroads into community connections, and built your congregation into a vibrant, growing, difference-making group of faithful people, it’s going to be hard to leave them.

But, who knows? You might just create an even more beautiful tapestry at your new appointment!

Remember, leaving one place for the next likely comes feelings of loss. Yes, you’ve built something special together, and even though your paths now diverge, the connections you’ve made will always hold a cherished place in your heart. But by seeking closure, you can move forward with peace, gratitude, and the unwavering faith that God will continue to guide you on this amazing journey called ministry.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be addressing other components of navigating the emotional rollercoaster of changing appointments including balancing self-care and family life during the transition, and building relationships at your new church.

Moving on is a chance for new beginnings, both for you and for your church family. Embrace the excitement of a new chapter, but don’t forget to take the time to say goodbye with grace and love.

Click here to read more and share your experiences.

Commentary written by Rev. Rebekah Simon-Peter at www.rebekahsimonpeter.com