Being a pastor is a privilege and honor. It is a distinct relationship and connection. Pastors share with people at holy intersections: birth and baptism, the life covenant of marriage, family crises and everyday challenges, illnesses and recoveries, graduations and job trials, tragic losses and celebrations of lives well-lived, presiding at Christ’s table. Through the role and the function of ministry, pastor and people experience a distinctive bond.
So today, I want to offer this second installment of the “steps in healthy parting and welcoming” when a pastor leaves.
Step Two: A Season of Absence
In order to allow for a newly-appointed minister to begin building a pastoral relation with the congregation, United Methodist ministers practice a year of absence from their former congregations. (In most instances, pastors are engaging in a new congregation, so their focus is elsewhere. In the case of Los Altos UMC, I am in the same position as your last two pastors. I will retire in the area.)
Yes, it is awkward - but important. It is important to provide the space and time necessary for the seed of this new pastoral relationship to take root. The key is, “Whom do you turn to?”
There are certainly occasions when a former pastor has had a long-term relationship with a member of a congregation and a family may want to involve that pastor in a memorial service or wedding (or other pastoral role). In this instance, the respectful procedure is to talk with the new/present pastor and indicate your hope to include a former pastor. It is the prerogative of the present pastor to extend an invitation to the former pastor. (Note – It is not respectful to call the former pastor first.)
So when people ask if Trish and I will be attending Los Altos UMC after I retire, my response has been, “That is our intention, after we have been away a sufficient season.” We look forward to enjoying the relationships and mission of the church family at LAUMC in the future. For this season, we pray for the LAUMC family to grow in mission and ministry in the care of newly appointed Pastor Mark Sturgess and continuing leadership of Pastor Melinda Dodge.
May the Spirit employ us each in the work of Christ’s body.