24th July 2020

Week 13: Reflections on transitions, part 1

Helen Averill reflects on how we can respond to change in today's world, in our virtual wellbeing series

Noun: the process or a period of changing from one state or condition to another
Verb: undergo or cause to undergo a process or period of transition

We have all experienced a lot of change in the last four months.  Those who have suffered the loss of a loved one or damage to their own health will be grieving; this is a natural and ongoing response to loss. Those who have come through so far without such painful personal experience are still likely to have to deal with the challenges of a reduced economy, gaps or delays in education, the lack of family care structures, or jobs, to name but a few.


Many people think of change like standing, metaphorically, at a cliff face and, depending on your viewpoint, there is either a long way down or a steep climb up – either way it is daunting.  Transition is defined as the process we go through to bring about, or respond to, change.  By moving consciously through the transition process, we are able to integrate change into our lives and our sense of self.

The Clergy Transition Service I work with uses images of crossroads, of steps, of a path through the woods or a gently flowing river to convey the idea of a journey or a period of changing from one state to another.  All of these pictures have an element of moving gently and naturally, so that it becomes easier to think about bringing about change.

 Reacting to change

Understandably, when we experience sudden change forced upon us, we can feel fearful, anxious and unhappy.  We might look for certainty and try to hang onto the things or routines that are familiar.  In the first few weeks of working from home during lockdown, I discovered that following the same work schedule and wearing my ‘work’ clothes helped me to be much more settled and my productivity improved.  This is an acceptable strategy as long as it is not so overused that it becomes an obstacle to change.

An important step in going through a transition is to keep a focus on what you can do and what you can have a say in.  Stephen Covey, writing in ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’, describes a model consisting of concentric circles: the largest contains all our concerns, within that is a second, smaller circle containing those over which we can exercise some influence; smaller still within that is a circle holding all those concerns which are in our direct control.  His advice is to put our energies into concerns in our circle of control and into expanding our circle of influence and to let go of anything outside that.

Avoid doom-scrolling

Luke 12:25 reminds us: ‘Who of you by worrying can add a single minute to your life.’  Some of the advice for people who became very anxious about the pandemic was to limit their consumption of news and media stories.  Numbers and statistics and graphs are beyond our control.  The key is to focus on doing what we can do and on what we can influence.

If nothing else seems possible then we can focus on our own internal transition.  Asking What is my response? How will I act in this situation?’ gives us power over our reactions. We can make choices, maybe not about what happens, but about what we think and feel in response to what happens. This is described as ‘the last of the human freedoms’ by Viktor Frankl in his book ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’.

Need more?

The Clergy Transitions Service offers free, confidential, individual support for clergy who feel that they are at a vocational crossroads, or who would like help in reflecting on their current and future ministry. For more information, see https://www.churchofengland.org/clergytransitions or email helen.averill@churchofengland.org

If reading this has led you to want to seek additional support or signposting, please contact:

  • the person in your diocese responsible for clergy wellbeing, or
  • St Luke’s click here or call 020 7898 1700