Friday, April 20, 2007

Long Distance Grieving

I was on the subway yesterday, reading about each victim of the massacre, and I was sobbing in my seat. I'm glad the car was almost empty. I kept my newspaper up for privacy.

This morning I got an email from our Old First family that moved to Blacksburg two years ago. The mother brought me up to date on the kids, all four of them. And I started to grieve for them too. Quietly crying while at my laptop.

They're safe, they're fine, but I realized how much I missed them. I used to teach them in Sunday School, I used to pray with them and talk to them about God, and I loved to hear what they had to say, not just about God, but about their lives. And then they moved away.

Then when another family announced in November that they were moving to Michigan, with their two little kids, my wife said, "Damn, now we'll never see those kids grow up."

The turnover in our membership is hard to take. You build relationships with people, and then they move away, and all you can do is grieve. You can't hang on to them, they have to join some new congregation where they have gone to live, but you feel it when they're gone. It's a problem in Brooklyn. The turnover, the moving in and out.

And to compound the issue, pastors tend to move around. We leave relationships behind. Our former parishioners have to connect with our successors. I'm in my fifth congregation. I just can't afford to keep connected to the people in my former congregations.

In January a couple from my second congregation had a terrible car accident. He was badly injured, she was killed. I had counseled and married them, they had been our friends. But, not atypically, we hadn't had contact for some years. They have had two pastors since we left. I felt so disconnected. What could I do but grieve at a distance.

It's one of the reasons why so many pastors keep the walls up, why they hold back from opening themelves to their congregations. The emotional outlay is just too great.

Somebody said to me on Sunday that the reason he attends Old First, even though he's Catholic, is that we are "open" with our emotions, we are candid and vulnerable and real. I was grateful that he said that. But I know why many pastors aren't that way---the grief.

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