[Note: It’s a privilege to write reference letters for colleagues and friends. Occasionally we in the church are invited to offer “charges” to new pastors or their congregations with advice and reminders. Nobody has asked me to offer charges to sorority girls, retired pastors, or pastor search committees, but that’s my plan before leaving for vacation.]
I imagine it feels discombobulating to move from a rhythm of weekly preaching and liturgical seasons to a schedule comprised primarily of personal errands, etc. To shift from being The Pastor to a wholly new identity (“Retired Person” or “Former Pastor”) would be disconcerting, especially if you were a pastor for 20 or 30 or 40 or 50 years.
Although I’m not retired, I have an idea of what you are going through in that I made the move from being a parish pastor for 27 years to being a middle judicatory staff member. I still get to preach and I still attend church meetings, but nobody calls me Pastor Jan anymore. I haven’t baptized a baby since May 1, 2011 and maybe never will again.
I know what it’s like to grieve the loss of leaving a congregation. I do. I know what it’s like to end a pastoral relationship and try to maintain friendships while not interfering with your former congregation’s future. It’s painfully difficult. At least for a while, we cannot even maintain those friendships.
Now that you’ve retired, please remember that when you to pop into worship or show up at church gatherings in your former congregation – uninvited by the current pastor – it’s not good for the church you say you love and miss. You put the current pastor(s) and frankly, you put me as a member of the Presbytery Staff, in a difficult situation. You are forcing me to contact you and remind you about skills you should have learned in elementary school.
If you have been specifically invited by the current pastor to return for an event, whether it’s a wedding, a funeral, or a worship service, that’s great. But to show up uninvited is a boundary violation.
At best, you are breaking your Covenant of Closure (which in my tradition is what the retiring pastor signs on his/her last Sunday.) At worst, you are in violation of your ordination vows – the one about being a good colleague (“Will you be a friend among your colleagues in ministry, working with them, subject to the ordering of God’s Word and Spirit?“)
It would be healthy and helpful if you would stop.
[Gentle Readers who do not happen to be Retired Clergy: just as sorority girls don’t read my blog, retired pastors probably don’t read my blog either. But if you are friends with a retired pastor – especially if he/she continues to consider that last church to be forever his/hers – please have a loving conversation with our retired colleague.]
Retired Colleagues, please consider this:
- If your grown children and/or grandchildren are still members of your former church, please talk with the current pastor about how you will deal with those events when your family members play the flute on Christmas Eve or serve as liturgist on Palm Sunday.
- When the church staff has a celebration or they go on retreat, don’t assume you are invited.
- If you are “Pastor Emeritus” it doesn’t mean you are still part of the church staff. It means the congregation gave you an honorary designation to show that they love you. It doesn’t mean you are entitled to be their pastor forever and ever.
- Although we believe that everyone is called to ministry, you are still called to ministry, but not ministry in your previous parish. You are called to serve in a new way, in a different context. Prayerfully consider what that new ministry will be and remember that it could be in a museum or homeless shelter or high school. But it’s not in your former church. Ever.
- Please respect the person who followed you in your former church. And realize it’s not respectful when you turn every opportunity to return as your showcase moment.
- It’s your job – your job – to say no. “No, I can’t officiate at your wedding.” “No, I cannot return to do your funeral.”
Please let’s talk about how you can make disciples in new ways. I would love to dream with you about how you might serve in this next season of your life. And thank you for your service. It has been a blessing, but now it’s someone else’s turn to be a blessing with the church you no longer serve.