Visit our new site at

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Ask the Matriarch – The Long (or not so long?) Goodbye

Good morning!

This week’s question comes from a RevGal who is discerning that it is time to leave the setting where she has been serving:

I'm trying to figure out when to break the news to the folks in my church that I am leaving them. There are a couple things that make this sort of "interesting." It's a different situation from a regular resignation where they would need lots of lead time to call a new pastor, as I am one of three non-stipendiary priests on a Mutual Ministry Team and the other two will remain as well as the rest of the team to continue on in ministry. The other complexity is that my husband and I don't know exactly when we are leaving. We have set a goal to be moved by July 1 if at all possible, but we cannot go sooner than the end of May due to my "day job" contract commitment. But all of this hinges on getting jobs in our new location, selling our house here, etc. My thought is to set an end date for my participation on the team on May 22nd anyway. It would give some "finality" and allow some planning for schedules, etc. My question then is, when to annouce this. How much time is enough and how much is too much. Hoping some of you who have left calls and have some experience with this can lead me in a wise direction. Thanks!

In alphabetical order, our respondents offer the following thoughts:

Jennifer, blogging at An Orientation of Heart writes:

I hope you feel you can share with your lead priest or head of staff the news that you are leaving as soon as you feel comfortable. Undoubtedly you have program planning and a preaching schedule and your lead pastor would probably appreciate all of the notice you can give. He or she can keep the news confidential while still being given the courtesy of knowing what's up with you. I'd suggest sharing your news with the congregation no more than a month in advance. Given your timetable of wanting to finish on May 22, I'd say letting folks know after Easter would be adequate for offering you a fitting farewell.

Best to you!

Mompriest, who blogs at Seeking Authentic Voice writes:

This is a good question. The way we end a ministry is as important as the way we begin one, even if we are part of a team. Certain people within the congregations served will always know “You” as their favorite and will feel the loss. This means you need enough time to say goodbye and celebrate your ministry with all the people in some festive manner – a glorified coffee hour with each congregation – at the very least. Check out the Alban Institute weekly newsletter articles for more information on this. (somewhere in their archives they will have something on ending pastoral relationships.)

On the other hand a protracted good bye will feel endless and wearing on everyone, especially you. Essentially you become a lame-duck leader once you announce your resignation and it all becomes about goodbye. The other two ministers will feel the impact too and the transition will begin, even if it’s just a transition from three to two ministers in rotation.

So, the general rule of thumb in my denomination is to announce your resignation 6-8 weeks before you leave. Occasionally, when a Rector (head of staff) is retiring not resigning, much more notice is given. In your case I suggest something along the 6-8 weeks, which will feel terribly long and too short all at the same time. And, as I’ve said a team of leaders need to organize with the various congregations a festive celebration of your ministry with them and a fond farewell. It is appropriate in my denomination to ask folks to contribute to a “purse” – a farewell gift of money – but that may not feel right to you. A gift to a local charity in your name could also be appropriate.

And Muthuh+, who recently retired herself, adds:

I would say that 6 months is too long and 1 month is too short. Give yourself time to visit with those who need your visit, to wind up all the projects that you have in the fire. I would suggest 2 or 3 months will be enough. If you were the stipendiary pastor, I would suggest more. Allow them to have a party to say good bye. Give them a specific date. I had a problem with this when I retired because we had a problem with our housing. We had to move the date around a bit which was not good for the parish.

It’s your turn…use the Post a Comment function to share your experiences and insights.

And send us your questions – the queue is nearly empty. Send them to

May you live in God’s amazing grace+


image courtesy of


  1. When I left my first call (albeit a different circumstance than yours) I gave 7 weeks notice. For me, it turned out to be too long. After about 5-6 weeks, it felt like it was time to go. Whenever I leave my current congregation, I'll go with a 5-6 week timeline.

  2. I've been through this several times on the leaving end--both from an assistant's position and as vicar--and on the staying behind end twice with retirements and once with someone moving to another position.

    What I have experienced is that the person leaving often has a great desire to tell people, to get the news out. However, it is really hard for a congregation to know how to live with someone once they know you are going. I think the 4-6 week window is about right, with the short end of that if you are in more of an assisting position and the long end if you are the primary leader. There may be one or two lay people in critical positions and colleagues who should know sooner, but resist the urge to share the news too soon.

  3. 4 weeks tops. I would tell everyone... including co-pastors... co-workers... on day 1... and the congregation... via a letter that goes out that same day. If you tell the co-pastors... or elders... they are gonna talk... and where there is no truth... gossip will set in with the congregation. This and 6 bucks will buy you a coffee from Starbucks.


You don't want to comment here; instead, come visit our new blog, We'll see you there!

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.