Last weekend I left St Hild College, after completing three years of pre-ordination training, and a theology degree.
I have never formally studied theology before, and it was been a remarkable journey, as I have learnt a whole lot more about the Bible, the Church, and God – although it is probably more accurate to say that I have learnt less about God, however this is a good thing.
It’s also been good to leave well. We left St Andrew’s Church, Starbeck a week or so ago (after ~20 years), and had the chance to say goodbye over tea and cake, and were wonderfully prayed for by the church. Similarly our last weekend at St Hild, which culminated in the great “sending out” of the commendation service, was a very special occasion, and felt like a suitable closure of that particular chapter of life.
Leaving is an strange rite of passage. We have all left things; from going home at the end of party, to moving out of home, or moving on to a new job. My natural inclination is to slip away, and not make a fuss… but that actually denies people the opportunity to say goodbye. It also opens the door to future regrets, “if only I’d have said….”
When saying goodbye, it seems to me that there is a balance to be struck. On the one hand being being fully present; attentive to what is going on, and that this is possibly the last time you will see these people. Living in the moment. Carpe diem, if you will. More than that, it’s about facing up to the reality of it, and looking it in the eye. Yes – I am leaving, this is it, the end. What do I need to do to leave well, without regret. What words do I need to say? What rooms do I need to visit? How am I accepting and marking it?
On the other hand, the danger of being too present and attentive is being overwhelmed by the emotion of it all, which ironically stops you being fully present. You can’t hold conversations with people if you can’t talk due to sobbing! Don’t get me wrong, grief and tears are important and appropriate; but it is a shame if these get in the way of the good memories, and indeed of the occasion itself. There is time for tears, but this may be the last chance to savour that place and those people, and it’s all too easy to miss out on that, carried on a wave of emotion.
It has also just struck me that Jesus spent some considerable time preparing his disciples for his departure (the so-called Farewell Discourse in John’s Gospel) – and indeed he spent time preparing for his own departure in Gethsemane. Jesus’ message for his discipleship was of encouragement and hope, while acknowledging that the path ahead wasn’t going to be easy. In fact, he promised it would be difficult. But he also promised that he would always be with them in Spirit (which means a lot more than the platitudinous way this phrase is used today).
Life is a journey of endings and beginnings. We have celebrated the good friends and wonderful memories. We have said our goodbyes, with sadness and joy. We have tried to be fully present and leave well.