Sunday, January 1, 2012

The long goodbye

Since my appointment to the Diocese of Edmonton – and the implied departure from Montreal – was announced at the end of October, it seems I've spent a significant amount of time saying goodbye. Just about every meeting or event I attended from All Saints to Christmas involved, yet again, telling people I was leaving and saying goodbye.

Saying goodbye for two months is a difficult thing. Of course, each different group is usually hearing the news for the first time, although for me the news was getting rather less new each time. People were generally very kind. Some were surprised, most offered kind wishes for the move and for the future. And every time there would be someone who would say “Edmonton is cold.” Surprisingly, just about every group had some people who would tell me about having lived in Edmonton, or having family or friends who live here.

Some of the goodbyes were obvious. The announcement to the parish meant an extended period of finishing up and trying to help them to prepare for our departure. In a way it was funny preaching about a future that I would not be part of, but I felt it was necessary to help the parish focus on what is to come rather than dwell too much on what had been for the previous 12 years. I had to say goodbye to three other parishes as well. My parish had been in a long-term relationship collaborating with a nearby Lutheran parish. My counterpart there graciously offered to swap pulpits for a Sunday so I could take a last service in his congregation and say goodbye to them. Then there was a newly-arrived Romanian Orthodox congregation that had just started meeting in my Church. The day their priest was being formally installed was the first time I had been able to attend their service, and my opportunity to say goodbye. We had just started to get to know one another as clergy and congregations, and it was sad not to be able to pursue what had begun as a hopeful collaboration. Father Gabriel and I had begun to hit it off well, and it was sad to realize that we would not be able to build on a promising start to our relationship. The fourth parish to say goodbye to was an Indian Orthodox congregation that has been meeting at my Church for many years. Again, a long and special collaboration with priest and congregation. And although I couldn't take a service, they did kindly ask me to speak at their Christmas celebration. It was a farewell to old friends, to Daniel Achen, his lovely wife and their congregation.

There were final meetings with friends and colleagues, exit interviews with the bishop and archdeacon, and a farewell interview with the editor of the diocesan newspaper (who had first interviewed me a quarter of a century before for the local daily newspaper). There were lunches and dinners and meetings for coffee or a beer. And some not-really-last chance meetings with my daughters. There was a farewell reception for the parish. And we had final appointments with our doctor and cancelled upcoming appointments with our dentist. And of course we had to say goodbye to neighbours.

One funny sort of goodbye that I experienced was unknown to anyone else but myself, as I began to realize that I was going to a familiar place for the last time. Should I say goodbye to the cashier at the grocery store? To my usual barista? The waitress at our usual pub? The letter carrier? It's funny in all of these semi-anonymous interactions how one makes a connection even if we never get much beyond facial recognition and pleasantries.

Goodbyes were often a mixture of emotions. People always said kind things. Some presented gifts, generally quite unexpectedly and always thoughtfully. These stimulated happy feelings, and a sense of being appreciated and cared for. But there was also the feeling of sadness, not for the past, but for a future that we had always taken for granted and that was now gone.

There is, of course, a new future to look forward to, which I embrace, but more of that is really what this blog is about.

In the meantime, goodbye, Montreal. Au revoir.

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