Eastertide is here. We celebrate the resurrected Lord. Hallelujah! Yet in many ways it feels a bit like the classic Dr. Seuss book reimagined for another holiday season: “It came without candies. It came without tags. It came without baskets, bunnies or bags.” Sure, most of us know Eastertide is about so much more, but I can’t help notice the disorienting fog in the air. For some reason, even as we bear witness to the resurrection, we find ourselves in disbelief.
There is grief in the air. It’s thick, real and collective. No one seems able to escape it. Schools have closed for the year, graduations and major events are being cancelled or postponed, people are losing jobs, some are sick, others are dying. The church has our own set of losses as well; community ministries struggling to meet increased demand, distanced pastoral care, postponed General Conference and even a new location and time for our Annual Conference. Our grief is ever present.
Why acknowledge this and spend time harping on grief after just celebrating the hope of Easter? Because naming our losses, and in this case experiencing collective grief, is a necessary part of leadership. In order to lead through this crisis, leaders must be able to navigate the psychological transitions that are happening in themselves and in others.
Leadership experts speak about the difference between change and transition. Change is external. Transition is internal and it takes more time than the basic fact of change. In his classic leadership text, Managing Transitions, William Bridges identifies three stages of transition: endings, neutral zone and new beginnings. Bridges observes that the first stage of transition involves acknowledging what is being lost, which means grief happens.
There is no way around the endings stage. Even with the vision of Easter before us, we must acknowledge what’s been lost. What’s more, as leaders it is our job to provide a place to recognize those losses openly and then to expect we will receive all the hallmarks of grief in return (anger, denial, bargaining). So I’d invite you to consider how you’ve been doing that as a leader: