Why would anyone sell his house, leave a loving spiritual community, move from a place he had lived for nearly thirty years, uproot his entire life and his partner’s to relocate eight hundred miles away to a city that he had barely visited in order to step into leadership in a spiritual community that had experienced a painful transition and was still healing? The only answer is “Spirit.” It is what we do as ministers and spiritual leaders. Even though it means walking through the fear and facing the unknown, we follow where we are led to go.
That is exactly what I did in June 2014. I resigned from my position as spiritual leader at Unity of Arlington, Texas, and accepted the position of spiritual leader at Unity Church of Denver, Colo. Even though I knew it was the right move for me, and that I was following my highest guidance, it was not an easy choice to make. It was painful to leave the community that I had bonded with for six years. It was a challenge to consider relocating to a new city and adjusting to different surroundings, while wondering how I would be accepted by a new church family.
Making this move gave me a personal perspective on what ministers and spiritual leaders experience when they change ministries. It also allowed me to see just how important it is for new ministers to receive support from their new spiritual community while making the transition. I am grateful that my new community was prayerfully and thoughtfully prepared to welcome me.
While leaving my former community behind was difficult, especially because they supported me from the beginning of my licensing journey, it was made much easier by the love and care I received from my new community in Denver. From the day I received the call from the appointed council member offering me the position, I was supported in every way imaginable.
Simplicity: One Point of Contact
I had not made a long-distance move before, so I was not prepared for all of the details involved. To help facilitate the process, a council member was designated as my point of contact. She and I communicated frequently regarding the logistics of the physical move, including moving companies, estimates and payments. She helped to make the physical move as smooth and easy as possible, even offering to arrange for volunteers from the church to help unload our belongings once we arrived. Luckily, that was not necessary, but it was comforting to know that it was available.
The demands of planning the move, while time consuming, were minuscule compared to the emotional demands of making the transition. I found that it was important to be willing to be honest about my feelings and ask for help from my new community. Members of the council were there to listen and give me empathy and understanding when I shared my pain and fear with them. One council member prayed with me before I met with the board of my former church to tell them of my decision to resign. They continued to offer their prayers throughout the process. Their love and support helped me to feel embraced by my new community even before I arrived.
They also went to great lengths to create a warm and welcoming space, both at the residence and at the church. I am fortunate to be able to live in a house owned by and located adjacent to the church. After I accepted the position, one of the church members who is a realtor provided me with a video recording of the interior of the house, which included details of all the rooms and storage. It was a great help in visualizing how we would best utilize the space. Additionally, the church took care to renovate the house to make it a more inviting and comfortable living space. This included refinishing floors, fresh paint, new appliances, window coverings, landscaping and more. Upon arrival, the refrigerator was well-stocked and healthy snacks filled welcome baskets on the counter. They attended to every detail to be sure my partner and I felt welcomed and appreciated.
The Keys of Trust
I view being given keys to the church as a rite of passage. Receiving keys to the church met my needs for belonging and acceptance. I was delighted to immediately be given a set of keys with clear instructions about which keys to use for specific purposes. Believe me, this is no small task, given that nearly every door requires a different key. I was told, jokingly, by the church administrator that learning the keys was the first test of being a good minister. Even after nearly a year, I am still learning. I hope that doesn’t reflect badly on my annual review.
My office at the church was also freshly painted. The furniture was moved and replaced as I had requested. It was a treat to use my own key to open the door to my office and walk in to a warm, welcoming, nurturing environment prepared specifically for me. I spend many hours in my office and I appreciate the care the church family took to make it feel like home.
I was slightly nervous walking into the church on my first Sunday. However, as I was greeted at the door warmly by the president and vice president of the council, the joy and appreciation they expressed moved me to tears, and I immediately felt my heart open and my body relax.
My new community made it a priority for me to feel welcomed, not only by the adults, but by the entire church family. I was introduced to the congregation and received an enthusiastic welcome. At the end of the service, each of the youth groups presented me with welcome gifts, which included a collection of native rocks each painted with one of the Twelve Powers, a book of photographs and personal welcome messages, and a book of the best hiking locations in the area. I was touched by these expressions of love and acceptance.
One of the greatest challenges a new minister faces is learning names. It can be embarrassing for the minister as well as frustrating to the congregants when the minister does not remember names. It is valuable to address this up front and make it more comfortable for all concerned. Following the service, most of the congregants came by to shake my hand and introduce themselves to me in the reception line. I assured them that I would do my best to learn their names as quickly as possible, and asked for their patience until I was able to do so. They were accommodating and understanding. Still, today, many remind me of their names in the receiving line. I am extremely grateful.
For the first several months, we held “Dialogs with David” meetings after service so that I could get to know the members and they could get to know me. These meetings were essential for me to connect with what was going on in the community. We continue to have these meetings quarterly.
Transitioning from one minister to another can present mental, emotional and physical challenges for the minister(s), spiritual leaders and congregants. But maintaining connection, sharing communication and offering mutual support throughout the process can lighten the load for all concerned. I am proud to be the spiritual leader at Unity Church of Denver, and am grateful they facilitated the transition to a new minister with love, grace and ease.