If the first 24 hours are any indication, the news is very, very good indeed.
My meeting with the church council last night was truly wonderful. It became apparent that there was some real anxiety that I'd called the meeting to announce I was leaving... and when I started by saying "I've sent a letter to the congregation today..." I had to quickly add, "It wasn't a letter of resignation. I love being your pastor, and I hope to be your pastor for a long time to come!"
I reported on much of the rest of that meeting last night.
As they left, one woman caught my arm, saying "I don't suppose she'd like to sing in the choir?"
Today I saw two members of the board who were not able to attend last night, plus one of their spouses. I also spoke to my staff.
At the staff meeting, my secretary immediately began to cry, saying "I hate that you have to go through this." Which started me crying (the first time in all this; it was the tiredness, I think, as much as anything). The church handyman was someone I was a little worried about... I thought perhaps he would be uncomfortable. Instead, he said, "I think folks will be just fine." He disappeared to his wood shop. Later he re-appeared with a Cross Flamant he had carved for me, freshly stained. "That's to give you hope," he said.
Of the congregation, one member has informed me that she's known since I started. Her ex-sister-in-law used to work for Beloved. She and her mother (who also has known from the beginning) have been two of my greatest supporters these last 20 months.
In the worst reaction I got today, a lovely man said, very gravely, "I will be honest with you. We" (his wife and he) "are conservative people. This does bother me. I'm not comfortable with it. At the same time, I see all the things you've done with the church, all the things you've done for our people, and it's just blown me away. You've been a wonderful pastor. So I'm praying about it." As I left, he and his wife joined hands with me for a prayer, and they both gave me big hugs.
And finally, I called my brother and his wife today. They repeated almost word for word what the members of my board, staff, and, so far, congregation have been saying: We're happy for you.
What else can I say? This is just the icing on the cake of an incredible 24 hours, saturated with grace, grace, grace. God is very, very good. I know there are more voices to be heard, I know there will be at least some folks who are unhappy. But... I do thank God for this first, grace-filled 24 hours.