By Willie Sordillo
You who are ministers, whether serving in a local church setting, a denominational body, chaplaincy, the seminary or another related institution, are by necessity masters of negotiating transitions. You’ve been invited to walk the thin places where lives are transformed from unbaptized to pledged into the care of the Church, from independent to committed to others for life, from life on this earth to life everlasting, guiding the less experienced into the unknown. And you’ve likely learned to gracefully say good-bye to communities which have depended on you as much as any family member through times of both conflict and unity. You may have provided a steady voice to help your flock close its church doors forever, or perhaps you have helped to transform the church that was into something that carries its spirit forward. Transitions.
The Pastoral Excellence Network, too, has been attuned to transitions: the transition from seminary to first call ministry, understanding the joys and challenges of mid-career ministry or preparing for the life which follows a last call.
And now it is time for our own transition. For the past four years, thanks to a generous grant from Lilly Endowment, Inc., we have been dedicated to fostering a network of organizations committed to encouraging and supporting excellence in pastoral ministry. We have sought to help churches and related organizations provide opportunities for pastors to find support and learning throughout their professional lives. We have worked with congregations and organizations to help new pastors get the best possible start in ministry. We have also helped equip experienced pastors with practices that sustain their vital ministry, particularly through peer learning groups. As our grant period comes to a close, so will our doors, and our two person staff, director Larry Peers and I, will move on to other endeavors.
I’m not an ordained minister, but I’ve had my own practice making transitions, having recreated my work-life and, in some senses, my identity several times in the past. I began as an elementary school teacher, worked as a full-time musician, and, for the past fifteen years, have been involved in support roles in church-related institutions while continuing to play music in a variety of church and secular settings. The constant in my life running beneath all of this has been a desire to contribute to creating a more just, equal, peaceful and sustainable world.
In the course of a lifetime, one learns to let go. I’ve grown close to students, gaining something like a parent’s pride as I’ve watched them grow, attended their school recitals, and witnessed their transition into young adulthood. I have watched as many moved away from my care, in some cases to forge their own careers as professional musicians whose concerts I attend. I’ve raised and been educated by my own daughter, now on the verge of graduating from college and poised to strike out on her own. I’m at an age where the shock of the death of a longtime friend is too frequent to be unexpected, though it always is. The movies taught us that “love means never having to say you’re sorry,” but I think love means being there to guide and ask questions, to learn from those we teach and mentor, and then learn how to let go -- not of love, but of the feeling of responsibility for helping shape another’s life. We hope to have made a difference for the better, but we reach a point where it is up to those we’ve loved and worked with to take what they find useful from us, disregard and in some cases forgive the rest, and make a life of their own design. Our hope is that some thread continues after we’ve left, eventually finding its way into a tapestry more beautiful than we could have ever imagined.
As I write, I’m not sure what my next “right livelihood” will be. It may include some alchemy of several of the things I’ve done in the past, though life being what it is, it will necessarily include some new challenges as well. I’m sure music will continue to be a central part of my identity and work.
As I prepare to move on, I have two hopes for you who read these words. One is a hope that we have served you well these past years, and that you have found our efforts to be of some value in your own work and aspirations. Second, I hope that you will carry these beginnings forward, continuing the work we have started together, and helping it grow.
And so I let go of this and say goodbye. Thank you for the honor of partnering with you.
Go in peace.
Willie Sordillo www.williesordillo.com
Willie Sordillo is the Administrator for the Pastoral Excellence Network.
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