As I mentioned last week, I find myself questioning some of the standard practices of professional pastors – or in this case, the practices of churches and the higher judicatories that guide them. Today’s pondering:
To what extent do former pastors need to cut ties with former parishioners?
After Brian McLaren left Cedar Ridge Community Church – the church he and Grace McLaren founded – I was surprised to see Brian in worship with Cedar Ridge shortly after the arrival of the new pastor. This was a shock to my Presbyterian/Good Boundaries sensibilities. Doesn’t it hinder the relationship of the congregation to the new pastor for the former pastor to be there? Apparently not in this case.
In my current ministry, I am also aware of a retired pastor from a different church who has been “honorably retired” from that church for over three years but he has officiated at every wedding and funeral in that congregation since he “left.” The new called pastor has literally not officiated at a single wedding or funeral. Needless to say, the new pastor has been an “unintentional interim” pastor.
My hunch is that pastors who’ve retired or moved to another call have a different perspective than the pastors who have replaced them. Off the top of my head, I’d put it this way:
Pastors Who’ve Retired/Moved On Might say:
- Why can’t we still be friends with former parishioners if we agree not to discuss church business?
- These people are our long-time community. Our children grew up with those people. Our spouses’ closest friends include those people.
- They were our social network and supporters. We shared the deepest life experiences together.
The Interim Pastors or New Installed Pastors Who’ve Come After Them Might Say:
- It’s important to cut all ties – even social ties – to make it possible for the new pastor to establish strong relationships.
- It’s good policy to force the congregation to rely on the interim pastor or the newly installed pastor.
- It’s not healthy for the former pastor to be seen as “our pastor” in perpetuity.
I would love to hear about your experiences – whether you are a parishioner, a former pastor, or a new pastor.
I ask these questions as a “former pastor” who regularly invited those pastors who came before me to participate in special services, funerals, and weddings. My husband- who is also a pastor – regularly invited former pastors to participate in worship when he served as an interim pastor. We didn’t feel threatened by including the colleagues who used to lead our churches, but those former pastors were also very healthy and had excellent boundaries.
I guess my basic issue is that we have rules based on the worst possible scenario in terms of dealing with intrusive and unhealthy former pastors. What if we were all grown-ups and remained friends with former parishioners while keeping our distance from church business?
This is what I ponder after a weekend celebrating the retirement of a friend after 40 years of professional ministry in 8 congregations. People from all those congregations joined us for the celebration and they tell me that they remained friends with him and his family long after he left those positions.
I would like these ongoing relationships too, but it’s seriously frowned upon. Thoughts?