Now that I’ve been gone from my former congregation for about a year, I found recent wisdom from my friend Bruce Reyes-Chow who left his congregation about a year ago as well.
Check this out.
I am now the former pastor of two congregations. I left the first church in 1989 – the year that Microsoft Office was first released and Nintendo sold their first Game Boy. I left the second church in 2011 – the year that Facebook hit 500 million users and 175 million of us had Twitter accounts.
When I left my first church, the rules were to cut off all contact and that meant no phone calls or unannounced visits between former parishioners. This was fairly easy since I moved four states away.
When I left my second church, the rules were more complicated. Nobody was going to call me to ask about scripture suggestions for their wedding. I accurately did not expect that someone would contact me for pastoral care or advice. But I did ask about the common wisdom regarding staying connected with former parishioners through social media.
Is it okay to stay “friends” with former parishioners, even if you still consider them friends?
I was told to be smart about it. Don’t talk about church life on Facebook. Don’t cyberstalk your former church’s website trolling for news. Don’t allow former parishioners to pull you into conversations about the new pastor.
After a year of staying friends with former parishioners, I’ve decided that it’s healthiest for me to de-friend my church FB friends. This is legitimately sad because I love seeing the photographs of family. I love hearing news of school and jobs. But this continuing love expressed through social media makes it very difficult for the church to move on – especially after long term pastorates.
Even with this realization, there are other questions. It’s not easy navigating boundaries when we can be connected 24/7 without picking up a telephone or hopping in the car. But in my new position, part of my responsibilities involve helping teach what healthy boundaries look like.
I’m not sure the boundaries can be healthy if I’m still digitally connected to former parishioners. What have you found to be healthy in terms of saying “Farewell” in a digital age?