Sara Wenger Shenk, Ed.D., AMBS President, retired June 30, 2019, after having served since the fall of 2010.
A friend commented to me recently that an acquaintance “did not leave well” from her previous job. It felt like an observation loaded with import. What does it mean to leave well? Doing transitions well is hard work. Some transitions, like graduation, have established ways to celebrate endings and new beginnings. That doesn’t make it easy. Leaving dearly loved friends and professors is painful, and finding fulfilling work is uncertain. But with commencement rituals and blessings, persons can leave well.
For years, I’ve been asking myself: how will I know when it is time to leave? When is it right for AMBS and for me personally? There were times, when the work was so intense, that I longed for an excuse to make a quick exit, and then was glad I didn’t. I have mostly loved this work and wondered how I could bear to leave. Yet I have felt a growing sense that I have given what I can and it is time for someone with new vision to lead this beautiful learning community into the future.
Last fall, I went on retreat to discern whether I felt released from the call that brought me here. I had only come in the first place because, in the midst of my trepidation, I sensed an unexpected joy and rightness about yielding to the adventure. As long as I felt fortified by the Spirit’s courage, I could keep putting one foot in front of the other despite the daily challenges. On retreat, as I walked the prairie trails, listened and prayed, I wrote in my journal: “Dear Maker, Sustainer, Lover, Redeemer, I feel that it is time. And from all that I can tell, you are releasing me from this work. What are the signs? Not loud, certain, obvious, but creeping in little by little. It is time to lay this down … .”
In 2010 I had walked the retreat labyrinth as I began to serve as President — inviting the AMBS mission statement to open itself to me. Last fall, I walked it again, weeping with gratitude for the goodness I’ve been blessed to be a part of these nine years.
On leaving the labyrinth’s center, this song welled up: “Go my children, with my blessing, never alone. Waking, sleeping, I am with you, you are my own. In my love’s baptismal river, I have made you mine forever.”
I began, step by step, to leave. I was met by a community that does leavings exceptionally well.
Truly God is in this place! The place of transition. Whether we stay or leave, we are never alone. We are washed in “love’s baptismal river” and belong to God. Forever.
Sungbin Kim (MDiv) of Seoul, Gyeonggi, South Korea, receives his diploma and bell from President Sara Wenger Shenk at AMBS’s 2019 commencement. (Credit: Jason Bryant)