Changes in membership present a community with some of its toughest challenges. Leave-takings and arrivals have negative and positive dimensions that the collective must address. This is true whether the group lives together or, in an arrangement that is much more common, lives apart and meets regularly.
The departure of a community member, for however good and understandable reasons, represents a kind of dying. It has a finality about it that requires what we might call a mourning periodboth on the part of the person leaving as well as for those who remain. Too often the need for such mourning is overlooked.
The community should, therefore, ritualize the departure of a member. Time should be set aside for prayerful reflection on that persons life in community and the acknowledgment of her or his personal and communal gifts to the collective. It is also very important that the community and the person leaving make an agreement to remain in contact. This sort of ritual celebrates the departing member and encourages him or her to go forth with the ideals and vision gained in the years spent with the group. It is bittersweet and goes far to fulfill the requirements of mourning.
Such ritual also makes the departure a positive, forward-looking experiencea missioning. God calls us throughout our lives to "launch out into the deep," something that often means leaving the familiar for new and uncharted realities. If those called to leave know that their gifts have been appreciated and that they occupy a "grateful space" in the communitys memory, they have a better chance to share the benefits received from the experience wherever God leads them.