There are big changes afoot in our household: we’re moving to Wisconsin! At the end of February, a mere 3 1/2 weeks away, Evan and I are packing up our Maryland apartment and heading 750 miles west. We are excited and sad, peaceful and nervous. We know it’s a good and right decision to move near my family and where the cost of living can support our pursuits of teaching and writing and having children. But it’s a terribly sad thing to leave the family and friends that are here. We will especially miss our church family. Last month at a member’s meeting we managed, through a few tears on my part, to announce our departure and to reflect on how much we love the beautiful little church in the city. So here is our goodbye love letter to our church.

 

 

Dear Advent,

It is with both joy and sadness that we share that we’re moving away from the DC area and Advent at the end of February. We’re moving to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, for Evan to prepare for the Fall 2014 hiring season as a high school history teacher, and to give me space and time to write.  We see this area as the best place for us to begin a family. Also, my brother Jon and his wife Candace are there and expecting their first child in May, so we will be around to help them and welcome our niece. We also see this move as something that has been made possible, in so many ways, by how we have been blessed and stretched during our six and a half years at Advent.

 

 

We arrived on the first meeting of Advent, in a row house on Irving Street, greeted by Coite  on a hot, late June evening. We were 22 and 23, three weeks married, and I was six weeks out of undergrad. Six months later, after many Friday evening gatherings for fellowship and food, we sat in the basement of the Church of the Resurrection in tiny preschool chairs, and raised our hands to lead the somewhat amorphous ‘lay’ ministry at the new Sunday meetings of Advent at Casa del Pueblo.

 

 

And in the weeks and months and years to come, we were immensely blessed to watch Advent grow. And we were growing too.  There were incredible joys, as new people came and joined the church.  These were the friends who celebrated that first year as Evan finished a Masters in Middle Eastern History, and when I got into the Georgetown History department’s PhD program.  And there were deep sorrows, as people mourned the deaths of friendships, marriages, and family members. These were the friends we turned to, as we walked through our own dark valleys.  Evan’s relationship with his family splintered, I got sick for months, and the burden of a PhD program became too heavy.

 

 

But, God’s grace has always been most evident at Advent. It was where we prayed for other people whose families were also splintering. It was where we prayed and offered hard-earned council about how to set healthy boundaries.

 

 

And it was at Advent, at an annual retreat, where I began to allow God’s whispers that the dream of writing was worth pursuing to become reality.  Writing a retreat vignette was the most enjoyable thing that I had done with my words in years. And in 2 ½ years since that retreat, Advent has supported and loved us through our transition to becoming a writer and a high school teacher.

 

 

God provided us with Advent families who had babies in need of loving arms, who sleep long afternoons so I could write.  Our small group at Curt’s house prayed for us, fed us, and encouraged us all through Evan’s Masters in Teaching.

 

 

And it is here, that we are stepping out into the next season of writing and teaching. It is hard to say goodbye, but our leaving is in so many ways the fruit of the growing we have done at Advent. Advent has given us a place to grow and listen to God’s leading.

 

 

We feel so very blessed by being served by and serving Advent. In years that we made a dozen deviled eggs every week for the Advent potlucks, danced at each joyful Advent wedding, received a gluten free communion wafer at the Table of Lord, read of Moses crossing the Red Sea at the Easter Vigil, and met with small group leaders over slices of chocolate cake, we have felt immense love of Jesus and seen the unfailing love of the Gospel. We hope that our legacy at Advent, if we could be so bold as to use the word legacy, would be that we did our ministry together as a couple at Advent, and we hope that others see the image of God in us equally, as he created us male and female in his image.

 

 

For years, we have heard our pastors speak blessings for those who were leaving, saying that Advent sends them out.  Advent sends her love with those who go: the love of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. It is a love given by God, to bear witness to God, and to make us more like God.  It is love that renews, transforms, and matures.  And we testify to that love and its power of transformation in our own lives.

 

 

Thank you for the ways that you have loved us. Thank you for inviting us into your homes. Thank for the ways you have listened to our hearts and gently encouraged us. We love each of you so much, and are very sad to say goodbye. We have grown so much during our time here.

 

 

For now, remember that you always have friends in Milwaukee if you are on your way through or are looking for a place to go cross country skiing in the winter or water skiing in the summer. We love you guys, and would like to say a brief prayer for Advent in closing:

 


 

“Lord we pray for the ongoing blessing of the Holy Spirit on this community of believers, the Church of the Advent.  Guide Advent as it grows up as a church, and give it prayerful discernment as it navigates the challenges ahead. Strengthen Advent’s bonds with fellow Christ-centered churches, both those within her denomination and those without. If it be your will, give Advent a blessed new meeting space, and in the meantime, warm the homes of its members so that each space, throughout DC, may offer a hospitality that shares the Holy Spirit to those seeking welcome there. Give Advent the boldness to take new steps in faith and also the humility to remember that she is just one part of the body of Christ. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.”

Have you had to say goodbye to a Church family before? How did you express your farewells?

 

4 Responses to A Goodbye-Love Letter to our Church Family

  1. Hannah says:

    Amy,
    I have said goodbye to many churches that I’ve attended over the years, but I’ve never felt about a church the way I do about Advent. Me and Abby have had talks about “the good ‘ol days” and what that means. Why is it that we can never recognize them when we’re in them, but only after they have passed. Since that conversation I’ve been trying to recognize and be thankful for the current things and people in my life.

    I was at the members meeting where you read this letter, and as I read it again, I feel the tears falling. You and Evan truly were a gift to Advent and to me, and I will miss you for a little while, but I rejoice in the knowledge that I will spend eternity with you – and all the other fellow Christian brothers and sisters from whom I have moved apart.

    I am still in DC for now, and for the rest of the days that I have left at Advent, I am going to take notice and rejoice and be thankful for them. The “good ‘ol days” are happening now, and this time I’ll enjoy every one of them.

    • Amy Rogers Hays says:

      What a good word Hannah. I often thought about how, with Advent, it was easy to take the deep and time tested friendships I had now with people, and superimpose them on the past, and think oh those were the good ol’days when Advent was filled with people I knew really well. But, I didn’t know them really well then! I was just getting to know them, and I felt just as lonely and sometimes joyful as I do now! And, although it doesn’t feel like it, I’m sure that is going to be true in my new church home soon enough. I always think of that famous graduation speech by Mary Schmich “Wear Sunscreen.” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sTJ7AzBIJoI) Love to you from Wisconsin!

  2. Ila Sterling says:

    I have said many goodbyes to pastors in my lifetime. As as young person I attended the Salvation Army and the pastors would be sent to different churches from time to time. It was never easy because the officers (as they are called) are usually very close to their members. We would have a formal farewell service that would include speeches, songs, and tributes not only from the members of the church but also from the community. It was always a tearful event.

    Today, I am getting ready to write a farewell letter to my pastor who I have known for about three years. I am not attending the Salvation Army any longer, but I do find that pastors sometimes go on to new ministries. Tonight we will be having our annual Christmas party and it will be the last time our pastor and his wife will be with us as a church body. I am sure that it will be sad but life goes on and God knows every thing best.

    • Amy Rogers Hays says:

      Ila, I hope that the Christmas party was really sweet and meaningful. Our pastors and churches really can feel like family, and saying goodbye is so bittersweet. I often don’t think when I meet new people at church that they just had to say goodbye to their old church, but they usually just did. I hope that your church family will be really blessed by saying goodbye well and have the right new people come into a new season! Blessings, Amy

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