By Duncan Smith, Dialogue Resource Team

During this season of transition in Mountain States Mennonite Conference, different members of the DRT are writing articles addressing “change”.  In December, Charlene Epp laid out a general outline of a process of change. In January/February, Jill Schmidt wrote of our rapidly changing technology and its effect on our spiritual life and communication. This month, I will look at some typical congregational and conference changes and some practical responses.

When change happens, what has been normal – that is the homeostasis – is “upset”. “Upset”, in general terms, means things are different/changed. The challenge is that the process or result of change is rarely neutral. People experience the range from joy to deep hurt/anger and all else that can be named.

See if you can identify with some of these typical congregational and conference changes:
* Change of staff: Pastors, conference ministers, administrative assistants and custodians come and go. Sometimes this entails the coming of a transitional or interim pastor who is “temporary”. Obviously this is not just plugging in a new
person.  A congregation or conference has a new leader/mentor/partner, and this is a significant new relationship.

*Change of Direction/Vision/Theology: There may be agreement or disagreement with a new direction. There may be excitement or discomfort, depending on how close a person was to making the decision or if they feel left out of the decision-making.  A new healthy direction might bring both excitement and discomfort.

*Change of Relationships in the Congregation/Conference: For example, you begin to work at a particular ministry with someone and get closer to them than you had been with others in the congregation. On the other end, you can have a falling out with someone over a theological or other issue, and one  of you does not attend church anymore. Or when you see each other at church or a conference event, you no longer talk.

It is not whether these and other events will happen, but how are we equipped to respond. Here are some practical ideas, which can be applied individually or congregationally.

*Take a step-back and reflect on what is going on. Include your own response. Some changes can trigger reactions within us which are not related to the change at all.  Act in ways that infuse the situation with clarity and love, not actions that confuse and escalate potential tensions or are not related to the issue. Sometimes just asking questions for clarification and understanding can be helpful.

*Look at the small and big picture. In the scheme of things, where does this change lead? For instance, perhaps you do not agree with all the details, but like the overall direction of a plan.

*Do you have all the facts, or are you making assumptions about plans, people’s intentions etc.? What else can you do to get more information to help you understand?

*Talk to others also experiencing this change about their thoughts and feelings. Listen first, asks questions, seek to understand, talk last.

*Bring in others to help facilitate conversation, mediate, or give information in order to make a wise discernment.  Discern if decisions are being made out of fear or scarcity, and move toward holy discernment through the grid of love and

*Listen and pray for guidance from the Holy Spirit, trusting in God’s abundant presence. Sometimes we only recognize how God was present after the fact.

Changes, whether anticipated or only recognized later, take energy and bring stress. They are not neutral. Yet they are also an opportunity to say a continued “yes” to what God has been doing and/or to move into new ventures of living into the abundance of God’s love.

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