Clergy In Transition Part Two

Pastor’s in Transition

The Presbyterian Church is one of many main-line churches that instruct clergy to refrain from having contact with parishioners when they transition to another position or when they retire.  When I recently departed from the church I served, I made the commitment to follow the established guidelines of the Committee on Ministry.  In fact, when the Stated Clerk of the Presbytery met with the session of the church, the standards for professional ethics when leaving a church were openly discussed.  There were those who simply did not like these rules who also agreed, reluctantly, to abide by them.  An excerpt from these standards are found in the “Commission on Ministry” Manual:

“When a pastor leaves a charge, there are bonds of affection between the minister and members of the church, which continue to be cherished. Relations of friendship continue, but the pastoral relationship does not.  In order to spare ministers and church members from embarrassment, and to encourage the new pastoral relationship that will be established, the Presbytery directs the church to be reminded of these requirements:  When any minister resigns from a pastorate or retires from service, or becomes a pastor emeritus, the minister should not cease to perform such functions of a pastor at funerals, baptisms, and weddings unless invited to officiate in such capacity by the pastor or by the moderator of vacant churches.”  (GA Minutes, 1948, pg. 119, Status of Retired Ministers)”[1]  

Another excerpt from the Presbytery of Chicago agreement that clergy and sessions are actually required to sign. I include this statement because it gives room to be “friends” with former parishioners.  It states that the out-going pastor will    

 a)   not to become involved in any leadership or advisory role (public or private) within the former congregation; and

 b)      not to intervene, support, or give advice to anyone involved in a congregational disagreement or dispute;

 c)      not to officiate in any special events in the lives of former parishioners or of the congregation, including weddings, funerals, baptisms, worship leadership, church anniversary activities, etc. unless expressly invited by the Moderator of the Session;

 d)      to refuse requests for pastoral services made by members of the congregation;

 e)      to consult with the Moderator of Session prior to visiting the congregation, attending worship or attending a special event;

 f)        to refrain from giving opinions or directions regarding church business;

 g)      to explain and affirm the above principles to the congregation in writing (by letter or newsletter) and/or the pulpit before departing.

It is understood that this policy does not affect or require termination of friendships with individuals in the church.[2] 

This where, for me, the struggle begins:  It was important for me to underscore this statement about friendships.  After serving a church for many years there are established deep rooted relationships and family ties.  One of my next door neighbors was an active church member.  I cannot cut off being a neighbor!   I run into former members at the store!    

With some former church member/friends: Our children grew up together. We celebrated holidays, birthdays, picnics, weddings, anniversaries together.  It is often hard to separate those things we do as a pastor from those things we have done and continue to do as families and friends.  That is why it is important to remember “Professionals always need work and act professionally with boundaries in place even with friends!”  

I plan on continuing to do those things any good friend would do with my friends.   At the same time, because I am a pastor, I will absolutely refrain from anything that hints of being linked even slightly as “pastoral” when visiting with friends.  Friends will need to be reminded by me that I am not their pastor.  We cannot talk about the church.  We need to support new pastoral leadership 100%.  On the other hand, friends send birthday cards and Christmas greetings.  Friends share family news. 

Now another question has come up:  What about FACEBOOK?   I will devote another post to this issue!


[1]  Guidelines are available at Presbytery web pages or through the Committee on Ministry in most Presbyteries.

[2]   Committee on Ministry Handbook, Presbytery of Chicago


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