At Old South, we seem to say good-bye a lot. Occasionally, it’s in the form of a funeral. But, more often, it’s because a person (or a couple or a family) is moving. Most people are nice enough to inform me (and others in the church) of their departure, although there have been a few who waited until they had moved before informing me.
I know, good-byes are hard.
For those who share the news regarding their impending departure, I usually suggest that we observe the departure in some way during worship, recognizing their place in the church community and wishing them well for the journey ahead. The person usually cringes a little and asks something about the necessity of such an occasion. When I inform them that it’s really not for them, but for those they are leaving behind, they usually go along with it—albeit grudgingly.
I know, good-byes are hard. And no one wants to be in the spotlight like that.
For those not going away, saying good-bye can be especially painful and difficult, especially in a small church where everyone knows each other. That’s precisely why I insist—when the opportunity presents itself—that those who are leaving allow time for saying good-bye and to do it, if at all possible, during worship. I usually say something during “joys and concerns” and include in the pastoral prayer a blessing for that person or persons who are leaving us. There is in that moment grief as well as gratitude. My hope is that it means something for those who are leaving, and that it means something for those left behind, recognizing the loss while also turning to each other and to God for comfort and assurance.
Good-byes are hard. They are hard because our relationships hold significance, and those who choose to gather with us in our small church are each a vital piece of who we are, how we see and understand ourselves as the body of Christ.
And, that is why I try not to allow people to dodge the good-bye, although I have noticed that there have been a couple of occasions (and one that is upcoming) when a person seems to specifically choose their departure to coincide with my vacation. This sort of departure may be easier, but it isn’t better.
Good-byes are hard, but they are important. Saying good-bye allows the one who is leaving as well as those staying behind to experience a moment of grace, a time when sadness and thankfulness, as well as good wishes and peace, may be offered and experienced.
And, in the midst of the sadness and the anticipation of a new journey, there is blessing.