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DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Bridges, Butterflies, and Birth: Navigating Transformation

Written by: on May 17, 2018

By mid-August, nothing looks better to an eight-month pregnant woman than a window air-conditioner. Lugging a waddling body up a hill in 90% humidity, the cool apartment seems like heaven. While the first sign of pregnancy seemed like a celebration, by the eighth month, you just want to get that damn thing out. “I’m so ready for this to be over” you say to yourself, and anyone who will listen. The womb has been a great place to incubate this new little being, but the status quo cannot continue indefinitely. And the reality is that, for any pregnancy, there’s a sense of anxiety about what the actual birthing process will be like. You know there will be pain, but it remains hypothetical until real labor begins. The transition—hours and hours of labor pains, pacing, breathing, grabbing your husband’s hand and ripping his fingers apart, screaming, pushing. Suddenly, there’s a scrambling, a new wail, and this weird creature laid into your arms. The pain subsides, the sleepless nights begin, and a new normal is created. Then, three years later, in a moment of irrationality, the cycle repeats itself.

Caterpillar

So many metaphors to build upon in William and Susan Bridges’ guide, Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change! The reality we all recognize is that change is inevitable and on-going. Once an organism or an organization ceases to change, it dies. Change, therefore, is a sign of life. As I read through the text, I grew frustrated with the repeated concept of transition and mentally replaced it with transformation. Transition seems to connote a readjustment, perhaps shifting your place in the scheme of things. Transformation, however, is an entirely new reality, a new creation. Like a caterpillar, happily munching on milkweed, an organization knows what it’s about, everyone what their role is. I don’t know the mental capacity of a caterpillar, but I do know what it’s like to accept the reality of impending change and loss.[1] As our family has transitioned repeatedly from one location to another, we have worked deliberately to acknowledge the upcoming transition. For instance, preparing to leave California, we verbalized that we wanted to “finish well.” We literally said “good-bye” to places (Fullerton Theatre Auditorium), things (the Ombu tree at the Arboretum), and people (too many to list). We walked through our house and said good-bye to each room, sharing memories of our time in those rooms and thanking God, in tears, for the place. We gave away beloved things to beloved friends. We openly and emphatically acknowledged our losses.[2] We were confident in two things: our time in California was over; our unity as a family, and our love for our friends and the place wasn’t.[3] We’ve said good-bye to past places too often not to have learned how to do it better. And so we mark endings with the ritual of good-bye to our house, and we don’t shy away from telling stories of our time in that place.[4]

Chrysalis

Victor Turner introduced the anthropological concept of liminality, the idea that the threshold, the ritual in-between place, is where change and creativity, upheaval and chaos occur. A caterpillar builds itself into a chrysalis. Within the hard exterior shell, the caterpillar’s body disintegrates into gooey pulp and is reformed into a seemingly entirely new creature, although the DNA remains the same. After we left California, we spent a month with my parents and traveled across the country. In this neutral time, we explored Nevada and Nebraska, listened to California-dominant playlists, and too many This American Life podcasts. We played with cousins and hiked in mountains. It was an in-between stage that allowed us time to grieve and step out of our normal rhythms.[5] We thought creatively about living in a car together, and made short-term goals to leave Colorado.[6]

Butterfly

Emerging from a chrysalis is not easy, I imagine, but the result is Oh, so beautiful. The butterfly appears, quite unlike the caterpillar, the “expression of a new identity,” and yet, still the same creature.[7] We arrived in Indianapolis and purposefully took steps to settle. We Made a Plan to explore our new city; we bought extra tickets to events, inviting new friends to join us.[8] We walked through our new home and prayed a blessing in each room, saying “hello” after we’d said “good-bye” to place in California. Our boys participated in settling, choosing colors and painting their own bedrooms.[9] We introduced ourselves to our new church community and someone there quickly hired our oldest son for a summer job.

The church I serve is 125 years old. It has had many life cycles. Its first iteration included a “Hustling Hundred” men’s group, a lovely euphemism for the KKK. Another iteration promoted membership numbers and competition, growing the church into the largest in our movement—about 2000 in the 1920s. Another cycle saw us as an urban mission, handing out food and clothing to “needy people” as our neighborhood’s demographics changed. And our current iteration expresses itself as an asset-based community, seeking to join the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God in this place. On the horizon though, is the very change precipitated by our current success. Gentrification, occupied homes, and more stable family situations are creeping out from the interior of the city onto the Near Eastside. As we prepare for this influx of “stability,” we will need to navigate that change with a healthy transition transformation into another re-creation.

I’m encouraged, however, because we’ve managed it before; renewal is possible.[10] This transformation brings to mind Jesus’ use of the Last Supper as a liminal space between coalescing his followers, shaping his ministry, and, through his death and resurrection, ushering in the age of the Holy Spirit and the unleashing of the Kingdom of God. As Pentecost approaches this Sunday, I pray for our willingness to (again) let go[11] and allow the Spirit to transform us.

 

 

[1] William and Susan Bridges, Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change, (Da Capo Press, 2016), 30.

[2] Ibid., 31.

[3] Ibid., 37.

[4] Ibid., 38-39.

[5] Ibid., 49.

[6] Ibid., 52.

[7] Ibid., 65.

[8] Ibid., 67.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid., 99.

[11] Ibid., 94.

About the Author

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Katy Drage Lines

In God’s good Kingdom, some minister like trees, long-standing, rooted in a community. They embody words of Wendell Berry, “stay years if you would know the genius of the place.” Others, however, are called to go. Katy is one of those pilgrims. A global nomad, Katy grew up as a fifth generation Colorado native, attended college & seminary and was ordained in Tennessee, married a guy from Pennsylvania, ministered for ten years in Kenya, worked as a children’s pastor in a small church in Kentucky, and served college students in a university library in Orange County, California. She recently moved to the heart of America, Indianapolis, and has joined the Englewood Christian Church community, serving with them as Pastor of Spiritual Formation. She & her husband Kip, have two delightful boys, a college junior and high school junior.

11 responses to “Bridges, Butterflies, and Birth: Navigating Transformation”

  1. Mary Walker says:

    Katy, thank you for telling us more about your church. You’ve said things before that have always made me curious to hear more. What a fantastic opportunity you have to be part of the new transformation.
    I like the way you changed the word from transition to transformation. The book was great, but you made it more relevant for us as Christians. Everybody has transitions like it or not. As followers of Christ we want to be transformed in our relationships, not just our circumstances.

  2. Jim Sabella says:

    Katy, what an excellent point you make when you crossed out transition and replaced it with transformation. It’s tough, this transformation thing! Serving in the church that is 125 years old, you have a unique and valuable perspective on change and sustainability. Our churches are rather young in that respect and change is frequently difficult and even catastrophic. That your church has made it 125 years speaks a lot about the leadership, commitment, community and the foundations of faith that under-gird the church. Thanks for sharing you valuable insights.

  3. Stu Cocanougher says:

    Katy, thanks for the personal reflections. Moving is tough. As you well know, it is rare for children whose parents are in the ministry to live in the same home their entire lives. Many move every 2-4 years.

    As I reflect on this, I see a connection between a pastors ability to manage transition and his/her personal life. For example, most churches need to face transition…since most communities are in transition. A pastor that either avoids needed changes, or makes the wrong changes, or fails to transition well may discover a need for a moving truck.

  4. mm Jennifer Dean-Hill says:

    Katy, you had me laughing out loud with your birth description. So honest, real, and accurate. I can so relate!
    Your church sounds fascinating with its age and history. What a story those walls tell and oh how they have managed to contain and navigate change! I’ve never heard of the Hustling Hundred. Yet another disturbing discriminatory fact from our country’s past. How did your church evolve to where it’s at today? That would make a good book on managing change.

    • mm Katy Drage Lines says:

      True that, Jen, writing a book on the story of the church’s many iterations and the transformation process. The Hustling Hundred was the name of the men’s SS class, which also met outside of Sundays to discuss “pertinent” details in the life of the community (which included hosting KKK rallies against Catholics, African Americans, and immigrants; and protesting utility rate hikes detrimental to the neighborhood). The complicated reality is that being KKK members was only a partial identity, mixed in with “good” community action; there’s always more to the story.

      How did the church transition from that to its current iteration (and all the steps in between)? Partly, I believe, it adjusted as the social climate it’s a part of changed. But a significant factor was the men and women, and leaders who asked questions, made choices and adjusted to their environment and the work of God in this place.

  5. Lynda Gittens says:

    Katy,

    Thank you for your unique way of expressing your experience. Your family has experienced many changes, moving to new experiences. How did your family make the transformation to accept the changes?

    • mm Katy Drage Lines says:

      Good question, Lynda. Part of how we handle transition is that we don’t hide the changes from our boys, we give them time to process and grieve. And as I mention in the blog, we have rituals of “goodbyes” and “hellos.” And patience to adjust to the new reality.

  6. Kristin Hamilton says:

    This is a beautiful way to highlight the practices of the book, Katy! I applaud the way you finished, transitioned, and began again in such a healthy way but are still looking to the horizon.
    Like you, this book made me think about how change mirrors pregnancy. The really beautiful thing for me is that, just as all three of my pregnancies and deliveries and children have been unique, so is every change and transition. There are basic principles to follow, but each of us must find our way and experience every change as our own.

    • mm Katy Drage Lines says:

      So right, Kristin. Each pregnancy and child is unique– and similar, as are the changes and transitions we navigate through. Nice connection– thanks!

  7. Christal Jenkins Tanks says:

    Katy I loved the way you discussed the book using the lifecycle of a butterfly. I especially love the end of your post. Letting go and allowing the Spirit transform us is so important to living out our Faith cooperatively with God. ?

  8. Katy,
    Beautiful, poetic and unique, while driving us all deeper – as always. Thanks for that.

    I actually laughed out loud at – ‘Then, three years later, in a moment of irrationality, the cycle repeats itself.’

    It also reminded me of something I was told right after Jack was born, by one of the wise matriarchs of the church we were serving at the time. She said, one of the gifts God gives parents is forgetfulness: mothers forget the pain and the challenges of pregnancy and childbirth; parents forget – possibly because of – the sleep deprivation and the haze through which you walk that first year or so.
    Thanks again for the blog

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