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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Ask the Matriarch - So Long, Fare Well Edition

Last week we explored the question of seeking a pastoral call; this week our question pertains to how we leave a call. In many of our denominations an exit interview is employed in the process of a pastor's departure from a ministry setting.

I'm currently in my first call, but hoping to be moving to a new call soon and so I'm doing some looking ahead. I'm currently an associate pastor, but I imagine this topic is relevant for others also. Exit interviews. What about them? I guess I'm full of questions. Who should be a part of them? What kinds of questions should be asked--on both sides? What is the benefit of exit interviews? How long should they last? What am I not even thinking to ask?

Signed ~ Hopefully needing one soon

One of our matriarchs, Jennifer, who blogs at An Orientation of Heart responds with the following:

Dear Hopefully,

What an exciting time! A new call brings with a flurry of activity, and you’re wise to be thinking about good closure at your current call.

An exit interview can be a really valuable part of a pastor and congregation’s good work together.

As an associate, it’s appropriate to check in with the pastor (if one is in place) or your higher governing body (if you have one) to ask these very questions. There may be a process in place, either through your congregation’s personnel or ministerial relations committee, or more likely, through a parish/pastor relations committee or Committee on Ministry (Presbyterian terminology). I’m most familiar with a two meeting process, with an exit interview with you and supervisory folks from your current call to make sure that loose ends are tied up and folks on the scene are familiar with what needs to be done for a good transition, and a separate meeting with your COM rep (or insert appropriate higher gov. body committee name here) to talk about big-picture issues. That committee should have a set of questions in place that asks about your experience, highs and lows, special stuff they ought to know, and to lay good expectations about future contact between you and the congregation from which you are departing. Usually, that meeting is with you alone and with a rep. or two from the higher gov. body committee. You should feel free to ask any questions or offer any information you feel you need to in order to leave well and begin well in a new setting. I think the length of the meeting would be determined by how happy or how frustrated you’ve been in your present call.

Hope all of your journeying goes well!

There were no other responses posted to this week's question, but it doesn't have to stay that way. I am sure that many of our readers have had the experience of leaving a pastoral call. Please share your insights using the Comment function of this post.

May you live in God's Amazing Grace+



  1. Having just left a call which was on my terms and yet, I would NEVER go back, my only thought is... DON'T BURN YOUR BRIDGES! Even if you worked for the biggest sack of excrement on the planet... Take the high road. Srsly.

    They will show themselves to be arses. You keep your cool.

    They will say things which are uncivil. Or even uncalled for. Nod. Maybe scribble a note. And practice this line:

    "Thanks for that feedback."

  2. I left a call a few months ago, not on very happy terms. The default setting in my local judicatory is rather loosey-goosey. Sometimes there are exit interviews and sometimes not.

    Because of the nature of my leave-taking, I made it clear to the ecclesiastical leadership that I was requesting an exit interview and that I wished as many of the members of COM that could attend to do so. I made this request in writing, and they honored it. The whole committee came. (!)

    COM had a standard list of questions that they asked, but I also wrote out a list of questions, knowing that I might forget some important things in the midst of such an emotional discussion. I also wrote out a list of things I felt it would be important for those helping the congregation through transition to know: specific behavior patterns when conflict is present, issues of a financial nature that would be important to know when considering next steps, as well as a few pastoral care issues that I was probably the only person aware of in the congregation (those I shared with a small liaison group, not the whole COM).

    The advice to take the high road is worth taking seriously. COM (or whatever group you have to speak with) will be able to hear constructive, thoughtful, forward-looking critique better than they will be able to hear venting and frustration. (Although, I hope your exit is much more satisfying than mine was.) It took some hard work on my part, but I was able to sit down and separate what went wrong from what I hope would be better in the future. And I did get a chance to celebrate the few blessed moments there were serving that congregation, and got to hear some honest positive feedback on my leadership.

    It was not an easy 90 minutes, but well worth it. I wish you all the best.

  3. You don't want to see what I've seenMarch 12, 2010 at 12:22 AM

    It's also important that you and the congregation understand CLEARLY what the boundaries are when you leave. Different denominations have different suggestions or rules. But it can be really ugly if, after the interim or new pastor arrives, someone calls YOU to officiate at a wedding or a funeral or a baptism. Be clear upfront about how situations like that will be handled - or if they will even be allowed to arise.

  4. I retired in December after a ten-year pastorate in Parish X, and made a clear agreement with the interim priest and with the curate (remaining in the parish) that I would NOT return to officiate at weddings or baptisms (even of my own hypothetical grandchildren), and that when a parishioner dies I would like to be notified so that I might write a note or make a phone call...but would NOT return to do funerals.
    This is an area where people find it really difficult to think things through ... "Well, maybe if we explained that you would only come back if the person was a really special friend???"

  5. I am working in a denomination not my own so I don't know what the exit rituals are. But I have just given my congregation notice of my impending retirement. There are several things that I want to say before I leave about what I think I have prepared the congregation to do, but they will have to make up their own directions from here on out.

    I think Anon. has said some important things: Don't burn your bridges no matter how angry you are. The bitterness will just return to you rather than fall on them.

    Spend some time getting to a place of healing before you begin your next call. Otherwise you will take your anger into the next call. Go on a retreat, conference or a vacation before you go to the next congregation. VERY IMPORTANT!

    Remember that we clergy are not the only faithful ones in the church. We are a but a flash in the pan. Yes they will remember us and count the eras of the congregation by our names. But we are not the only manifestation of the holy one in their lives.

    And just remember that the church will go on being as sick as it was when they chewed you up. It is in the water--it has nothing to do with you.

  6. One of the most gracious things my first boss did when he retired and I became interim was to tell me that I was welcome to call him for a funeral, baptism, or whatever if someone asked...and that he would be unavailable every single time! Mostly I was able to explain nicely to people that it wasn't appropriate, but for the few hardcore cases, this allowed an easy out, and after a while the issue was history.

    Not specifically about exit interviews, but if you have documents on your computer that are regularly used--the letter of invitation for Scout Sunday or ushers, the checklist for special annual events, the bulletins for a particular service--it is a kindness to the next person to leave a copy of them on CD. If the computer is the church's, then give those files clear names and clean out the old stuff. He or she may choose to ignore it all, but I think it falls in the category of keeping those bridges in good shape to show small courtesies like that.

  7. I like what Betsy suggested. I actually put together a "manual" of how to do specific things (scheduling volunteers, sample schedules, etc.) and even a "script" for visitor calls. Because we are a "portable church" (i.e. we don't meet in our own facility) I also left diagrams of Sunday morning set up and photos of what it looked like when complete.

    Small things make it easier for the next person. If they choose to chuck it all, well and good. I did the best I could to make it easy to step in and do the routine that at least the congregation was used to seeing/hearing.


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