the Way Home
I decided to leave the congregation that I had served as pastor
for ten years, I was excited and grateful—finally I would
have large chunks of time for writing. But I also had some
Wouldn’t I be lonely? I don’t have that many actual friends
since the congregation was my social milieu for so long.
Wouldn’t the solitude get to me? I would no longer have an
office to go to with parishioners dropping in now and then
to say “hi” or share a problem.
Wouldn’t I feel isolated? The protocol in the Lutheran church
is that, when a pastor leaves—particularly a long-term pastor—contact
is severed so the congregation can best adapt to the new pastor.
Wouldn’t I feel anonymous? This was a special concern since
I’ve always heard the term “pastor” as one of endearment and
no one would be calling me that anymore. But at the end of
May I left Grace Lutheran Church and stepped into a new life
instantly: new career focus, new house, new husband. I waited
for the emotional shock waves to start rolling in.
It’s been a remarkably facile transition. I’m actually kind
of a hermit so I don’t mind the solitude of being upstairs
in my office, the rest of the house empty and quiet. I’m not
a real social butterfly, so I don’t have any great desire
to become A Lady Who Lunches. And though I do miss my church
office, I’ve managed to turn various libraries and Panera’s
into impromptu writing spots (though I’m getting mighty sick
of Panera’s coffee).
In view of all that, I was not prepared for last Sunday, the
First Sunday in Advent, flanked this year by America’s two
high holy days—Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
Advent is the four-week season before Christmas. Traditionally
it has been seen as a time of preparation for the transcendence
of divinity into human history. For me it’s always been a
time of mystery—the darkness comes early, the snow descends
and hushes the world and we can give in to the urge to believe.
Advent was also my favorite time of the church year. I’d pick
the haunting minor-key Advent hymns to sing on Sundays. The
congregation would have a fancy potluck supper that included
a Santa Lucia procession—white robed, red-beribboned girls
with crowns of candles on their head holding plates of saffron
buns while someone sings “Santa Lucia.” We would hang the
greens and trim the two massive pine trees on either side
of the chancel.
And I had a private Christmas Eve ritual. I’d leave our house
two hours before the service was to begin and drive up and
down the Niskayuna streets where neighbors have lined up countless
luminaria. I’d turn off my headlights and cruise slowly along
this path of flame.
Then I’d have time in the empty church, time to think. Or
not think. Time to just be inside this mystery I couldn’t
articulate. Soon the congregation would arrive and we would
sing and laugh and end the service by singing “Silent Night”
in complete darkness, each person holding a lit taper.
Somehow, in leaving Grace, I’d forgotten I was leaving all
that. And when the First Sunday in Advent came I felt truly
I haven’t been attending church. I don’t know where to go.
I want to find a place with a politically-engaged, intelligent
congregation, a place that has good music and good liturgy.
But that place is Grace. And I can’t go there.
So now it’s Advent and for the first time I think I have an
inkling of what it means to be blue during the holidays. I
won’t see the Santa Lucia procession this year. But my extended
family, who still attend Grace, will. I won’t drive up and
down looking at luminaria as a prelude to leading Christmas
Eve worship. In fact I won’t be leading worship at all. I
won’t be with the people with whom I’ve celebrated ten richly
Of course I understand that I chose this. And I’m happy and
committed to the discipline of writing, grateful for the hours
and the solitude.
But I also know that I am rootless this Advent. It’s a strange
All our family traditions will remain intact—the cookie-baking
frenzy, decorating the tree, dinner at our house with the
annual Ramos gin fizz as a prelude. But I have uprooted myself
from the rituals and the mysteries of the season.
And yet, ironically, maybe that will bring the season home
as never before. Because that first Christmas wasn’t about
singing “Joy to the World” and hanging the Christmas greens.
It was about a couple, burdened with impending responsibility,
wandering the streets of Bethlehem, not knowing where to go.