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Thursday, November 08, 2012

Ask the Matriarch - Advice for a New Call

One of our colleagues has happily accepted a new call and is looking for some input on how best to navigate the transition. She writes:
I just announced that I've accepted a new call in a neighboring town. I'm looking for advice on leaving well (I've been an Associate Pastor for 6 years), starting well (I'll be a solo/Head of Staff), and boundaries (since I'll be commuting, not moving).

Kathrynzj responds:
I've done this! I'm not sure how far along you are in the process, but the first thing to keep in mind, especially since you are so close to both calls, is that each will hear how you handle things at the other. This means tell your first Call before you candidate at the next Call. It is a little out of order according to our polity, but word will get back before you are done with the charge and benediction. Now I re-read that you've already announced so... the next thing that is important is keeping your head in the game at your first Call while you are still in it. Especially because of proximity, Call #2 might want you to come to this or give thoughts on that. Unless it is related to COM or your reception - don't. Act as if you are across the country. This also counts for your time in between Calls if you have any. And here's the most challenging one - the folks at the first Call that you cannot wait to get away from? You need to do your best to make amends. A small booklet from Alban Institute called 'Running Through the Thistles' talks about this. In order for you to serve #2 Call fully, you will need to leave some stuff from #1 Call behind. Make appointments to say good-bye to the folks you struggled with - and the folks who supported you. There will be some in the former group (I'm assuming all pastors have them) who will refuse to do so. Fine, that's their choice. Now is the time for you to be the bigger person and for your own sake, let some of that stuff go. From my experience, this will go a long way for you as you head into a different type of Call. Congratulations!

Thank you, Kathryn, for sharing your wisdom! 

How have the rest of you handled this sort of transition? What advice or support can you offer our colleague? Please join the conversation in the comments section. 

And, as always, we welcome your questions at askthematriarch[at]gmail[dot]com!

-- earthchick


  1. I'm sorry I didn't get to answer this in time for the post, earthchick. Crazy week here.
    My transitions have been from settled to interim (X3) then back to settled, and they have all been within a relatively small geographic area. I have lived at the same address the whole time. To add to Kathrynzj's good thoughts, I would say:

    1) Let yourself forget. Let yourself forget the details of people's lives as well as the things you loved or with which you struggled. Letting those things go creates a lot more interior space for bonding with the new congregation. When you run into them, as you will, answer their questions briefly and ask only the most general "How are you?" questions in return. I tend to lean on, "How is that grandbaby?" or something else that makes it clear we're not having a pastoral visit in the grocery store.

    2)Evaluate your map and your calendar. What are the places and times in your life when you are apt to run into folks from Church 1? Make some adjustments to where or when you grocery shop to decrease the possibility of running into them. I was lucky that most of my church folks shopped on the other side of Portland, but in my current call, the most convenient grocery store is in the same town as my last interim. I've had to learn not to go after worship, even though that's almost always when I want to pick up two things I need that afternoon.

    3) When you have these chance meetings, never ever ever ask about the church.

    4) When people ask to see you (have lunch, coffee, etc because they miss you), be kind but too busy. Think of how you want your predecessor in the new call to relate to the people in that church and do likewise.

    5) Remember that even the people who worked with you the most in the call you are leaving are not your friends. You may care about them very much, but you have to find a more detached understanding of your relationship with them in order to move on and make your new attachments.

    6) Re: social media, if you have accounts your church members read, I would suggest restricting past church folks to some more public setting, so they get out of the habit of knowing what you eat for breakfast or where you're going on your day off or whatever else you might post. It's not mean. It's kind. They, too, need to bond with someone new in their lives, or since you have been an Associate, with the other staff member(s) who will remain. Check out Facebook's privacy settings and create a group using "restricted list."

    If I think of more later, I'll be back!

  2. Two more things:

    7) Again re social media--remember that if you don't set up some restrictions, people who miss you *will* be commenting on your page, your updates, your life situations, and people from your new congregation will see it, making it seem like you are still connected to the past church whether you really are or not. If you're going to do social media with your new congregation, let it really be with them.

    8) (This is a hard one.) When there is a death in the past congregation, keep away. Do not call. Do not email. If you think there's a chance that it would be cruel to make *no* mention, send a card. *But think carefully about whether you're sending a card for the sake of the bereaved, for your own sake, or for the sake of Jesus Christ/the Church.

    That was the hardest part of leaving my first congregation, because several of the old ladies I had adored died during the Interim that followed my departure. Not only was I bereaved myself, but I knew the part-time interim had not even met them. (I knew because the p-t interim told me.) When those moments come -- in other words, when you unfortunately, due to proximity, learn something is happening or not happening in your past church and it disappoints you -- find some way to plunge in at the new call by reaching out to members there.

    *I recommend a card because it does not encourage an immediate response as a phone call or email would.

  3. No wisdom to add here; just want to thank kzj for the thoughts about leaving those with whom you've had difficult relationships...hadn't thought about it in that way and hope I will be able to use that advice at some point!

  4. in our denomination we have a service to conclude a placement, where the congregation rolls are handed from minister to Lay leader, and they then get handed to the next Minister, when they arrive. it is a 10 minute part of a regular service for those in congregational settings, and includes confession and leaving and blessing. the service is to help make clear the end of the pastoral relationship to both Minister and Congregation.
    If you are interested I can send you a copy. This part of the worship service is led by someone from Presbytery [regional body]

  5. so I read Running Through The Thistles and I still found myself wondering what exactly to say in those meetings with people with whom I've had conflict. How do I set that meeting up, and then what needs to happen during that conversation?
    And then I wondered a lot while reading it if there are (or should be) differences in approach between a solo pastor leaving and an Associate leaving. I really don't know...

    thank you all for the wisdom so far! I'm excited and nervous and hopeful and petrified all at the same time. Leaving well and having good boundaries feel like enormous questions to me right now, and you've helped a lot!

  6. Running Through The Thistles helped me get my head in the game -- but I did not schedule "meetings" as much as being intentional about meeting and greeting them in my final weeks in my leave-taking. I also tried, however, hard it was, to be thankful about SOMETHING they had been doing... even if I did not like their thistle-y way of handling X or Y, I tried to sincerely acknowledge there interest and passion in it.

    *Important* - I did not read cards or open any parting gifts then, except for the "all-church" one. The personal ones, I set aside, thanked the giver and told them I would enjoy opening them later. No one really insisted that I open theirs "RIGHT NOW." It was nice to have that pressure off...

    It was ironic to me that at a good-bye reception, one of them gave me an old "Irish prayer" that read
    "May those that love us, love us;
    And those that don’t love us,
    May God turn their hearts.
    And if God doesn’t turn their hearts,
    May God turn their ankles,
    So we’ll know them by their limping."

    Needless to say, I was glad I opened that one at home!!! They meant it as a compliment (at least the accompanying note said so.) My spouse and I were in fits of laughter and tears for some time.


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