A Good Good-Bye – A Clergy Perspective

At the farewell gathering for one pastor and his family, a number of important things were said which provide a thought- provoking outline for the consideration of issues related to disengagement. The bold typed lines are the quotes from the Personnel Committee Chairperson (United Church of Canada). Consider working with your SPRC to include some form of this in either a worship service or a farewell gathering.

You will be missed!

You have been present in significant moments of people’s lives. Your presence has been a reassuring constant for many. If you have a family, they may have played vital roles in the life of the congregation and the loss of those relationships will be felt deeply. To acknowledge loss and grief is not only helpful, but therapeutic. People will express this in different ways. Some will be able to articulate their sadness directly. Others will express their grief through anger or distancing. Rituals in worship and in other setting to acknowledge loss and grief can be helpful.

There will always be a place for you here, but it will not be the same place.

Up until now, you have been the pastor, holding a particular role within the congregation. Once you leave, you step out of that particular role with this particular group of people forever. You will no longer be their pastor…what will your role be with them? Think about the various congregations you’ve been in where there has been contact with former pastors. What have the former pastors done that has been helpful? What has been problematic? What does that mean for you as you leave this congregation…and what will be hardest to let go of?

There may be times when our future pastors invite you to share their ministry with them. When they invite you, we will be most delighted to welcome you.

While pastors are not encouraged to return officially to churches they have served, it is important to acknowledge that they are welcome to maintain the important connections of friendship and concern that have marked their stay. Should you return, you return as a friend who has shared a portion of their journey, not as their pastor. A new pastor will be arriving, in the pastoral role. How are you helping your congregation understand the shift? Should you be invited to return for a particular occasion, what are some ways that you can honor that shift in roles?

We expect to grow and change because of the roots you have planted and confidence we have gained while you were here.

Your work with the congregation is the platform that will support the next stage of their growth and development. New things will emerge, because of your time there. Changes will take place. Take joy in this. Trust that God is present and let go of worrying. Make sure that the incoming pastor has the needed files and information. Then, after you have gone, when the temptation arises to get involved with the on-going development of that congregation – acknowledge it…and set it aside. What steps can you take now to anticipate development and change, and remove the potential for future tensions?

Because of your ministry with us, we know the value of a pastor’s presence….and so we will be receiving a new pastor, just as you will be following someone else.

The next phase of work for the congregation will be attaching to a new pastor and learning to appreciate the gifts she or he brings. After you have left, you may find yourself feeling jealous or that your ministry there is under-appreciated. In attaching to a new pastor, the congregation is not forgetting you, nor dismissing your ministry. They’re doing what is necessary for the church to move forward.

Since the Church of Jesus Christ is bigger than any one local expression if it, you can rest assured that the good work you do elsewhere will be appreciated by us, and good work we do will strengthen and reassure you.

The connectionalism within the church is made possible when friends, pastors, and associates move away from one another, taking with them the assurance that “we are one in the spirit” and “united in Christ.” Reflect on the people you know and the relationships you value that have been made possible because of the moves you or others have made. Hold in your minds-eye a picture of that web of care being enlarged, and the connections increased, by each years’ moves.

Image Credit: Some rights reserved by woodleywonderworks

Adapted By Gail Grossman from Pastoral Transitions, by Bud Phillips.