Saying farewell: How do we move on when a much-loved church leader leaves?

The choir poured out their heart-felt rendition of John Rutter's classical sacred choral composition The Lord Bless You and Keep You. It was the loveliest, most meaningful version I've ever heard. Soaring and sweet enough to rival the very best.

But this wasn't a prestigious choir. This was just a rag-tag bunch of ordinary church folks like you and me, doing the best job they could. And this wasn't just singing, this was praying and willing and wishing and hoping. The pews were filled to bursting with the faithful, the faithless, the old, the young, the dignitaries and the commoners alike.

Saying farewell to a much-loved church leader can be hard.Pixabay

Audible sobs were politely muffled. There wasn't a dry eye in the place. I cried my own river too. Our beloved vicar was retiring. We were saying goodbye.

Faithful viewers of the British television drama series Grantchester will have noticed the residents of that picturesque English village similarly grieving and grappling with the loss of their own spiritual leader. After four years on air, the main character, charming vicar Sydney Chambers – played by the impossibly handsome James Norton – has flown the nest. Following a string of on and off romances, Sydney's character appeared to become increasingly complex and conflicted. He was finally given a new love interest, shipped off to America and written out of the script entirely.

His friends appear to have been left floundering without him, struggling to keep it all together against a backdrop of social change and what Robson Green's character, Geordie Keating, describes as 'modern relationships'. Enter the shiny new vicar, landing, hopeful and naïve, right in the middle of their confusion and grief. What a mess. They don't call it drama for nothing.

Changes in church leadership can be terribly unsettling all round. When my vicar retired, following 20 years in post, people were visibly distraught for months. I was so desperately sad to see him go that I married his brother-in-law just so I could keep in touch. OK, so I had other motives too! But it was lovely to become part of his family and extend his influence upon my life. Sadly this lasted just few precious years, until he died, and when the church filled up to say goodbye all over again it was harrowing. I've seen a few clergy come and go since then. When the time comes, it's never easy to let them go.

How can we live knowing that such painful goodbyes are inevitable? How can we build relationships with new leaders knowing they may not stay? The fictional residents of Grantchester are bravely getting on with their fictional lives without the support of their beloved Sydney. They're sticking together, sort of. They're figuring things out as best they can, sort of. They're doing their everyday jobs, sort of. And perhaps when church leadership changes, a sort of muddling through is the best that any of us can do until we find our feet again, praying and trusting that the Lord will indeed, bless us and keep us.

Val Fraser is an author and journalist. Follow her on Twitter @ValFraserAuthor.