You have probably heard me say that one of the most moving liturgies in the United Church of Christ Book of Worship is the liturgy of farewell. It begins with these opening words:
Our church family is constantly changing.
People come and go.
Babies are born.
Children grow up.
People commit themselves to one another.
Loved ones and friends among us come to the end of their lives.
Individuals move into our community and church life.
Others leave us, moving away to new places,
new experiences, and new opportunities.
It is important and right that we recognize these times of passage,
of endings and beginnings.
While this liturgy is most often used in our churches to mark the departure of a pastor, the truism of change describes the ebb and flow of the life of any faith community, even a Conference.
When I returned from sabbatical, I was made aware of a change that would affect the life of this Conference. Hayley Elliott, the Acting Director of DuBois Center, resigned for personal reasons in mid-June. She and the Executive Committee had agreed upon a departure date in line with her contract they were working toward. However, after several significant issues, the Executive Committee made the difficult, but necessary, decision to shorten her tenure.
Such abrupt endings are never easy as they not only naturally disrupt a system's (whether in a church or a camp) rhythm, order, and stability, but they also do not allow for closure. While, for some, the liturgy of farewell seems to be only words on a page, I believe it can be a powerful reminder of the need for good goodbyes, hopeful endings, and blessing-filled benedictions as the liturgy also contains the reminder of our need for offering forgiveness and grace on both sides.
In the section of liturgy, which recognizes the ending of the ministry, the person leaving offers a word of gratitude for the shared ministry and asks for forgiveness for the mistakes they made, to which the faith community responds with a word of blessing and acceptance for the apology. Likewise, the faith community asks for forgiveness for mistakes made, to which the person leaving in kind responds with a word of blessing and acceptance. This exchange aims to acknowledge that there have been mistakes, missteps, and misunderstandings. At that moment, it is simply first an acknowledgment. The hope is that, in time, healing can come.
Yet, such healing also requires all to move forward with the help of God to explore what’s next as their paths diverge. I wish Hayley the best in whatever God has in mind for this next season of her life. I also want nothing but the best for what is next in the season of the life of DuBois Center. For me, seeing the countless people who share this sentiment and goal has been heartening. I am deeply grateful to the DuBois summer seasonal staff and volunteers who kept moving forward this summer, despite the many challenges that arose. They always kept the children, youth, and adults they served as a priority with deep faith and resiliency. I am also profoundly grateful to our Moderator, our Conference Council, and the Conference staff who jumped in at every moment, figuring out what might have seemed overwhelming and impossible at times.
I covet your prayers and support for the Conference Council, the Outdoor Ministry Team, and myself as we discern the next best steps to carry on the ministry, mission, and legacy of DuBois Center. I believe, however challenging this moment might be, it allows us to consider what we can learn and what we might do better. With your prayers, financial support, and willingness to share your time and gifts with the Illinois South Conference (which owns and operates DuBois Center), we can continue to build a stronger tomorrow for our beloved DuBois Center.
Grateful to be in ministry with you,
Rev. Shana Johnson, ISC Conference Minister