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I have read a book which I recently saw quoted in the Vancouver Sun, in an article entitled The Science of Change Management by Eli Sopow which explores COVID'S emotional roller-coaster. The book is Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change, by William Bridges.

I am struck by what I perceive as the need for people of faith to stay rooted and grounded in the present moment, because that, as C.S. Lewis has stated, is more like eternity than either the past or the future. The present is the most like eternity. I believe Lewis says this because it is in the present that we encounter God. It is in the present that we experience God’s presence, with the Holy Spirit guiding, healing, calming, informing and empowering us to remain rooted and grounded in God’s presence, rooted and grounded in love. No matter what happens around us – we know whose we are.

I have found it such a blessing to be able to experience fellowship in person at St. Cuthbert’s, the parish where I am privileged to serve as rector – with the sun streaming through the windows (most Sundays, anyways).

Vancouver Sun, November 14, 2020  Dr. Eli Sopow is professor of Change Management at University Canada West and author of several research studies about human and organizational change.

Besides the physical health threats of COVID-19, the pandemic is wreaking emotional damage on many as uncertainty and confusion beget fear that morphs into anger and a demand for immediate solutions, answers and actions that science cannot provide. The increasing sense of crisis may appear chaotic with no light in our dark tunnels of isolation. But the science of change management explains that things are quite normal. In fact, events of the time are following very established patterns explained by change management. And to understand those patterns may bring at least a flickering light of hope and direction to us. The principles of scientific change management are quite simple. [I have reformatted the following – PRW]

Change affecting our lives can often bring

                  *a sense of surprise;

                  *fear if the facts are not clear;

                  *apprehension if the facts are clear but they hurt us;

                  *confusion if our role is ambivalent; and

                  *anger and reaction if we are faced with continued uncertainty and a sense of powerlessness.

Our reaction to all manner of threats is chiefly emotional as our brain's amygdala triggers a flight, fight, or freeze reaction. We see a new threat in the context and experience of what happened before, designing reactions based on what worked before. Today the pandemic is neatly charted on any of the many models of change management. William Bridges, an authority on change and transition and author of Managing Transitions: Making the Most Of Change, argued that change is best described as a journey from emotionally letting go of what we once had, [First group of people] entering a neutral stage of questioning and ambivalence, [Second group] and finally moving forward with a new beginning. [Third group of people] [emphasis mine- PRW]

There is a percentage of people who can't let go of things as they were. They cling to an evaporating economic certainty, to past cheerful bonds of socialization, and to clocks set to a predictable future. Their emotions of fear and anger run strong. Those emotions are evidenced in “anti-masker” protests, conspiracy theories, and “facts” that fill the uncertainty of science and bring an illusion of knowledge and safety. There are some [in this first group] who argue that all that is needed is “better” communication with those who are trapped in what Bridges described as “fear, loss, and hard to let go.” But that is a simplistic solution. Those stuck in the first stage of transition are squeezed by attitudes and behaviours long in the making and rooted in institutional and societal mistrust. It is the second and far larger group, those in Bridges' “neutral zone” of “searching, confusion, and highs/ lows” that we need to address. It can be argued that society is stuck in this “neutral zone,” unable to enter “the new beginning stage” encompassing a “new identity, new energy, new purpose, and optimism” because of an erosion of trust. The research on trust agrees that the defining characteristic of trust in others and in institutions and organizations requires the presence of competence, fairness, dependability, honesty, openness, experience, and consistency. Those characteristics must be embedded in communication that is clear, useful, and timely. [It might be a helpful exercise to reflect on our church’s communication in light of this list. PRW] Today, as much of society spins its wheels in the murky waters of the pandemic, seeking some hope of traction to drive us to a new level, trust seems to be a diminishing resource. The science of change management has an explanation for that. It is simply that we are basing our trust on old models, hoping that yesterday's solutions and response to urgent problems will return us to the glory days of yesteryear. That things will “change back” to where we were. It simply won't happen. We are confusing “change” with “transition.” As Bridges said, “It's not the changes that do you in, it's the transitions. They aren't the same thing. Change is situational … transition, on the other hand, is psychological … getting people through the transition is essential if the change is actually to work as planned.

I am proud of the way our church and many other churches have been handling the transitions – and there have been many, with new ones on the horizon. The “Neutral Zone” where the old is still with us and the new has not yet emerged, is marked by “searching, confusion, and highs/ lows”. I admit that the neutral zone is not a destination, and the discomfort we experience during this transition is a kind of suffering. But better to suffer with a Saviour “familiar with suffering‟ than to lose ourselves in binge-watching or gaming, overeating and/or drinking and “wishing it weren’t so”. Similarly, it is tempting to focus our hope on a vaccine so that we might feel better. And so we read every shred of news about vaccine developments.  But more information will not make us feel better. It is like waiting to hear (over many days) the result of The Election in the US that took up so much of our attention during the month of November. More information doesn’t change the dial on how you might be feeling. Acknowledging our feelings before one another and before God is a healthy first step. Journaling about how you are feeling is healthy. Getting out and raking the back yard just might help you feel better, or going for a walk, or washing a window. Remaining rooted in the present, where God’s presence can be experienced is the touchstone for all coping strategies. Participation in Holy Communion, reading your Bible and praying facilitate this rootedness.

“The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, his mercies never come to an end.

They are new every morning, great is thy faithfulness!” -Song lyrics by Dave Hunt

Where this really gets to be a test is if you are experiencing OTHER STRESSORS in the midst of the pandemic; health concerns for yourself or for a loved one, a notice of exposure to the virus by a call from a contact-tracer, less income from less work or a lay-off, or changes at work with their attendant transitions, more conflict at home, to name just a few. And if you are sensitive to the reduction in light-time hours, then the emotional life is a challenge to keep on an even keel – without getting swamped. The fact is, we need each other! And so it is good to meet, even if on Zoom. Pandemic restrictions have fractured the Body of Christ – congregations not being able to meet as a whole. But consider that Jesus was made known to the disciples in Emmaus “in the breaking of the bread”. Could it be that there are new ways to know Jesus through our present situation?  And through the Mysteries of Bread and Wine we who are fractured are put back together or “re-membered‟ by God. 

Let’s live each day, for “this is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24). We manage the transitions the best we can with the help of one another and with the help of God. For me it is reminiscent of going through white-water in a raft; both thrilling and dangerous. In order to navigate the upheaval successfully we need to work together with clear direction. And even doing our best, we will likely get wet!