Departing and arriving

Seven weeks ago we left Leicester and arrived in our new home in Sheffield. Saying Goodbye to the old and Hello to the new has been a very significant one, especially as it was accompanied by my retirement. I had not only come to the end of my five and a half year ministry at Stoneygate Baptist Church, but also nearly 39 years of ministry in Baptist churches.

Goodbyes can be difficult and painful – I have lost count of the number of times people have told me they hated them. But it is a mistake to avoid them. All relationships come to an end; to deny that, or pretend that endings are not integral to every one of them, is a rejection of reality. A goodbye affirms the meaning and value of a relationship as it becomes a matter of memory. Sometimes goodbyes are temporary – the relationship can be resumed, more or less as before, after a break – but our goodbye to the church in Leicester was permanent, not in the sense that there can be no continuity of friendship and contact, but because the kind of relationship we had was coming to an end. Even if we had not been moving away from Leicester that would have been the case, but this added to the sense of finality.

Goodbyes are always two-way – they have to be both given and received. In our case, a goodbye from Rita and me to a church where I had been minister for five and a half years, and a goodbye from the church to us. There were, of course, other goodbyes – to neighbours and other groups of people – but the church was the main one. It seemed to me that for my goodbye to be genuine, I needed – and wanted – to say thank-you, and to say sorry. Also, after having said many words, most of which will inevitably be forgotten, to say something helpful, recognizing that final words have a particular significance. I wanted to encourage the church to love and to care for one another, and not to become inward looking but to reach out to others – the two themes above all that Jesus also emphasised as he said farewell to his disciples.

A departure from one place leads inevitably to an arrival somewhere else. Both partners in the goodbye find themselves in a different place. There will be uncertainty and loss, and new opportunties. For us, arriving in Sheffield, we had to start afresh in a place that was new and largely unknown. It is challenging rediscovering one’s own identity and finding opportunities and relationships to nurture, quite apart from all the practical complications of moving house.

Arrivals, like departures, are two-way. New relationships and possibilities open up both ways. A good arrival requires patience, as meaningful relationships are not built all at once. In arriving in a new and unfamiliar place, there is a temptation to fill the void that is left from what has been lost, but to fill it with activity and relationships that are not going to last will only make things worse and reinforce uncertainty. “Swan around for a bit” was some good advice we received shortly after arriving in Sheffield.

A good arrival also requires a spirit of welcome. A cheerful hello is especially important for those who have recently had to say goodbye, and an open generosity to strangers a powerful factor in building confidence. To hold back and wait for the other person to make a move is easily seen as unfriendliness, and can close down the possibility of new and rewarding relationships developing.

Being patient and being welcoming are not contradictory, as long as a third quality is also present – truthfulness. It is easy for unknown people, churches and other groups to hide who they really are in order to be liked. We cannot reveal everything about ourselves from the word go, but we can be open about who we are. – our past, our hopes, our priorities.

In many ways, departures and arrivals are what life is all about. We all arrive into the world as babies and we will all eventually depart from it. Our recent move has been a particularly significant one for us, and has helped me reflect on the importance of goodbyes and hellos. Probably two of the most important moments for everyone.

Peter Shepherd (November 2016)