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Students at commencement

Ministry in Context

"In Blackwater Woods": On Letting Go

The days, weeks, and months of this year of work and learning have been impactful in ways you could not have imagined. And yet, there is more to come! You aren’t finished yet! You have realize how much has already been learned, and how much more is yet to come. The phrase “you don’t know what you don’t know” is sometimes used to describe the unfolding of contextual learning opportunities, such as CPE, CPL, or Internship, and now that phrase has new meaning for you.

At the Spring cluster gatherings, I asked the current supervising pastors for words of wisdom to the interns at this point in their internship. One of the resounding comments was, “You are not yet done!” which I will boldly translate to mean, God’s work is never ending, despite what a calendar might indicate. This is Ecclesiastes 3 lived in daily life. Your eyes and ears and heart will not lead you astray, as you continue to hear and see the needs of God’s people around you in your context, so live this season fully!

When the contextual learning season begins to change, and the days of moving on to God’s next call are few, here are some of the other insightful wisdom shared by supervising pastors:

  • Make a list of the people who you need to say good bye to in person, especially any shut-ins, and arrange time for those conversations.
  • Read Running Through the Thistles: Terminating a Ministerial Relationship with a Parish, by Roy Oswald. Process and reflect the book’s message with your supervising pastor.
  • Saying, and sending, thank you, including to internship committees, councils, staff, and others.
  • Set the groundwork for whomever might come after you, including a notebook of details around items like technology, contact lists, et cetera.
  • Write a letter of encouragement to the person coming after you, especially if you know an intern has been placed at this context.
  • Share important information with your supervisor, especially related to any pastoral care ministry.
  • Participate in “Sending” opportunities including at worship, but not “Ending” opportunities, because you are being sent into God’s work and world.
  • Don’t turn the corner too quickly. Keep your engagement and quality of ministry strong right up to the final day.
  • When you do leave, do so openly in the light of day. And then make sure you leave, so there is room for new people and possibilities to follow after you.

Mary Oliver and her writing is friend to many. May the words from her poem, In Blackwater Woods, provide you with space to reflect on the impact of your contextual learning ministry, to be mindful of the sights, sounds, smells, and feeling encountered during this time, and the strength to let it go when the time is right.

Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars

of light,
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
and fulfillment,

the long tapers
of cattails
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders

of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is

nameless now.
Every year
I have ever learned

in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side

is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

- Mary Oliver, "In Blackwater Woods"

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