There is something magical, to me, about the Fall. Even though as I write this, the “feels like” temperature is over 110 degrees, Fall itself brings the image and feel of cooler weather, changing season, and new beginnings. Even as the trees begin the process of moving to show their autumnal beauty, both in the academic world and in the church life world, things are beginning anew. I see kids learning how to wake up early, and stand in line for their school busses, and I see congregations opening their doors up wide to welcome back, or to welcome for the first time, those who seek shelter in their spaces. Many congregations welcome new religious professionals at this time, too—there’s a sense of “ministerial musical chairs” that happens every summer, bringing the excitement of greeting the new ones as they take up their callings. In classrooms, the younger ones among us find new and familiar teachers, and greet new and returning comrades. It is an exciting time, for sure.
Yet also mixed in all of this is a degree of loss, and grief. Some familiar faces and voices have departed. Some congregations haven’t been able to attract the minister or religious educator or musicians or leaders they wanted. Many of our congregations have found, ever since the pandemic that their numbers have decreased, and many have forgotten that they were on that downward spiral even before we’d heard the word Covid. We struggle to understand who we are now, and where it is we want to go.
Joy and woe are woven fine, as the song in our hymnal puts it. Fall is that season of new beginnings, and recognition of endings. It is also a time of reflection. Within the Jewish tradition, the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur are a deep time of remembrance, of repentance, of vowing anew—a time for dreaming of what can be next out of the dreams of the past. A time for inward looking, as the daylight becomes ever shorter.
Yet this complexity of new and old and dreams lost and dreams anew, and all of the mix of the excitement and letting go, of joy and woe, of finding anew and grieving the lost—all of this is with us at all times of the year—it just can seem a bit more poignant in the Fall. Which is the “why” for me of religious community. It is together that we can share the excitement, hold each other’s losses, and find companions on the journey for whatever comes next. We are together because we cannot survive without each other. We learn most about ourselves in community, we learn how to love, and how to grieve, and how to fight for justice, and how to make the world a better place in each other’s company.
May this fall bring you the right mix of joy and woe, of delight and discernment. May you welcome the new in this time of transition and turning of the wheel.