At our most recent Pastoral Relations meeting, one of our members asked if there were any resources available that could help a congregation deal with the separation from a long-term pastor who is retiring. You would think that there would be quite a few, but I haven’t found very many. I did share with the committee and I will share with you the following piece which I had saved in my files. I believe that it can help to identify some of the dynamics and feelings that you and I, as pastor and congregation, are experiencing at this time:
“When a Pastor Says ‘Goodbye’ to a Congregation”
When a pastor leaves a congregation, it is important that he/she ‘leaves’ it. To say a responsible ‘goodbye’ is important for the life and health of the congregation’s future.
One might say: “Thank you for our ministry amongst and with you. We are leaving now. We are grateful for the love you showered upon us. Our mutual ministry was one of empowerment. I invite you to let us go, that you love the new leadership with the same kind of love you showed me and allowed me to be your pastor. Your future leadership’s ministry will be strong when you exhibit your commitment to his/her leadership. I love you but I will no longer serve you as pastor. I cannot return for pastoral services because responsible ethical behavior does not allow me to in any way impede the new leadership’s ministry. My constant presence would handicap the new pastor and this congregation from becoming a team committed to each other in a common ministry. So we say ‘God be with you.’ We love you in our separation and will continue to be strengthened by the memory of our life together. If you truly love us, let us go. We love you, so we are going to let you go. May God bless your future mission and ministry. Let us pray for each other.”
This statement expresses my feelings toward the people of Immanuel Church, and I hope that it helps you to process some of your feelings. I am also aware that we are most likely experiencing a wide range of emotions, some of which are not captured by this statement, some of which may be difficult to put into words. Many of our emotions are likely tied to the grief that we experience when a relationship changes or ends. In regards to that grief, it is a good practice to allow ourselves to feel those feelings of sadness, to accept the fact that we are grieving, and to know that this is ok and normal.
In a book called Downsizing the Family Home, Marni Jameson shares the following thoughts about moving and grief: “Moving – whether up, out, down, or on – is never easy, said life-change expert Russell Friedman, coauthor of four books, including Moving On. ‘Even when you’re moving for positive reasons – a better job, a better house, better schools – moving is a major grief event,’ said Freedman, who is executive director of the Grief Recovery Institute in Sherman Oaks, California. He defines grief as ‘the conflicting emotions caused by the end of or change in a familiar pattern of behavior."
I find these words to be very helpful. I know that I will soon be experiencing the end of or change in a lot of familiar patterns of behavior. And I know that you will also. It won’t be easy. It will require us to grieve. But with God’s help, I know that we can do this. On the other side of that grief, we will find wonderful new opportunities that God has planned for us. I will be able to be with family, to travel, and to devote more time to the saxophone. And Immanuel Church will enter a new chapter of its long and faithful service to God, with a new leader with new energy and creative ideas for the future of Immanuel Church. For this, we can give thanks and praise to God, from whom all blessings flow.
Blessings and Peace,