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Editor/Publisher of The Observer, Jocelyn Bell.

Observations: The rewards of letting go

Editor Jocelyn Bell reflects on the upcoming changes for The United Church of Canada, the magazine and in her own life.

By Jocelyn Bell

I recently moved from Dundas, Ont., to Toronto. And this shift prompted months of self-reflection. For the past 14 years, my husband and I have lived in a house where lots of things we weren’t ready to part with found a home in the basement. Now we’re in a much smaller space with no subterranean purgatory. As I sorted through my belongings and decided what would move with us, deeper questions emerged: who am I today, and what do I actually need?

Do I need a box of cassette tapes? I have no way to play a tape, but many were mixed by good friends back in the early 1990s. How about the books from my English degree? I’ll likely never read them again, but they nurtured my love of words and look awfully smart on my shelves. And what to do with the bike panniers that carried a change of clothes and my passport as I cycled solo through France in my 20s? They remind me of my independent spirit.

It really boils down to this: How much of the past do I need to hold on to? What do I value today? And how do I honour those things that shaped me before letting them go?

These are not only questions I asked myself as I sorted through basement bins, but questions The United Church of Canada and The Observer have been asking themselves too.

Through its massive restructuring plan, which is all but certain to be approved at the General Council meeting in Oshawa, Ont., later this month, the United Church is downsizing its bureaucracy from four courts to three — and reorganizing what’s left to reflect who we are as a church today.

The Observer, too, is in the midst of significant change as we work through a redesign of the magazine. This means scrutinizing the current mix of features, departments and columns, as well as the fonts and layouts, and determining which pieces fit into our new vision. (I’ll look forward to sharing more details with you in the coming months.)

Through all of this change, I’ve noted that whenever I’m struggling to let something go, it’s helpful to pause and give thanks. I’ve texted my appreciation to friends who made the tapes and reread a few poetry books before putting them in the giveaway box. The panniers, however, are coming with me: I have visions of packing healthy snacks and pedalling Toronto’s bike paths.

For United Church members, our tribute to Presbyteries this month provides a space to remember an institution before it disappears. As author Steven Chambers writes, “It just seems right to reflect on its passing, mourn a little and let it go.” Our changes at The Observer will also mean pausing to recognize that the current, familiar format has brought us to a place in this publication’s history that we can all take pride in.

Then, there’s nothing left to do but take a deep breath and move forward in faith. Faith that we’ve done the research, asked the right questions, listened carefully to the answers. Faith that taking risks often pays off, and even when things don’t go exactly as planned, new opportunities arise. Faith that God closes doors but opens windows, and that God is with us, wherever we go.

This story first appeared in the July/August 2018 edition of The Observer under the headline, ‘Mourn a little and let it go.’

Author's photo
Jocelyn Bell is the editor-publisher of The Observer.
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