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Thursday, May 16, 2013

Ask the Matriarch -- Moving Toward Moving On

For those of us in denominations with a search and call process, there comes that awkward moment when we feel called away, but not yet called to a new setting. How do you remain faithful in ministry while moving toward moving on? Here is this week's question:
I have served my church as pastor for 8 years.  It's the first church I've served.  Three years ago, I thought it might be time to move on, but the timing just was not right.  We were in the middle of some serious conflict, and while I really wanted to quit, it was not the right time.  In the past 6 months or so, I've been clear in my heart that it is time to move on now.  So, I've entered 'search and call' with my denomination, and I'm what they call "in circulation."  Kind of like a library book.  Anyway, now that I have come to the decision to leave, that's all I think about.  It's making me feel increasingly discontent and restless.  It is hard to find my mojo on Sunday mornings - writing sermons is like pulling teeth from an alligator, and Lord, committee meetings now are the worst!  I just don't want to do any of it.  I have to force myself.  My question is this:  while waiting on a new call, do you have any hints on maintaining your spiritual health in order to faithfully serve in your current call?

Here are some thoughts from Muthah+, blogging at Stone of Witness

Yes, I have known this malaise. I have even left a parish without a next call--I do not recommend this. It isn't good for them and it certainly isn't good for your career.
The best advice I can give is relax!  Right at the moment your head is in your next call even if you don't know what that is.  You have an obligation to your present community of faith.  You have fought the good fight with them.  In your prayer ask for the gift to stay present to your present flock until you leave.  Do your best to prepare them for that which comes next without making apparent that your are leaving.  Get some advice from a professional interim or some of our RevGals on preparing the congregation for your leaving.  

For you, the congregation is no longer the one to whom you are called---that is ok.  We all have to preach to those to whom we are not called at times.  It is also when we can be the most pastoral or the most prophetic.  Your role has changed and that may give you a different way of looking at your work in the congregation.  Becoming a bit more detached may just give you what you need to survive until the next call.  And in your preaching remember you are not preaching TO them.  You are revealing Christ to the world--that you must do whether you are called there or not.  

The more intuitive in the parish will know something is going on but keep your counsel until you have been called somewhere else.  A parish always feels betrayed when their pastor leaves even for retirement.  

I always felt that the position of pastor or priest was always a 'flash in the pan' in the life of a congregation.  So I always tried to prepare the parish for the pastor's leaving while I was still called there.  It is sort of like the parent who knows that they don't get to 'keep' their children.  They constantly have to be prepared to push them out of the nest.  The congregation has to be constantly encouraged to take on the pastor's duties, to take on the ministry for the sake of the whole community, etc.  This new work may take the edge off your wanting to be somewhere else.  Meanwhile, prayers ascend.

We welcome Jan Edmiston back to the Matriarchs panel; her blog is A Church for Starving Artists:

As you are preparing to leave, this is a good time to prepare your current congregation to be led by someone new.  Are they equipped to continue ministry without you?  Are there specific people you might mentor to prepare them for the day you leave?

I find it helpful to pray for the unknowns:  for your next congregation to be prepared to welcome you, for the next pastor of your current congregation that she/he will serve them well, and for you to carry on until that next call is revealed, that you would be prepared for your next community.

Blessings in this search.

Jennifer, blogging at An Orientation of Heart, offers a few quick, practical questions:

Have you taken all of your continuing education time? Now might be a very good time to nurture your soul with a great class, workshop, retreat or week away with some great books. If you have the time coming, I would definitely look in to taking it.

Have you made a list or written in your journal about what you do appreciate about your current call?  Thinking with intention and praying about what, if anything, sustains you where you are might be a good exercise.
The Alban Institute has great publications on leaving well. And while you are discerning a new call and not yet leaving, you’re mentally preparing to leave. Reading some of their books or articles might prove to be helpful.
Do you have a spiritual director? Perhaps checking in with someone new or familiar would be helpful right now.

All the best to you in this season of waiting and wondering…

Readers, if you have thoughts to add, please share them in the comments. 

We'll be back next week with another question. Could you use a word from the Matriarchs? Email us: Ask the Matriarch


  1. Great question and great responses...thanks. I've made this statement in quite a few gatherings including worship: How many pastors have you out-lived? You all will outlive me because you are the Spirit are the glue of this church.

    It is a humorous way to point out...that at some point in the future I will leave.

    Since I've arrived at this call, part of my call has been to help them be the church. FWIW...that is a long, hard, slow process in this church.

    Blessings on your time in the present and for what the future holds.

  2. oh yes!! It's a dilemma all right! I was in this situation three years ago... and the six months between realising this, and actually being able to leave were the hardest.
    However, during that time I fould I was able to preach about a whole variety of things which were preparatory without actually being about me. Because it wasn't about me (even when it felt very much so!)
    I chose often to stray from the lectionary; I preached about the changin world; about the communion of saints; about the people and the places that make up our stories, our histories, and I talked about how God moves us to things for a season, and then can move us on. (Used Acts - new communities; epistles to the churches and Paul's advice; and some of the parables that called folks to different things)
    In each case it was to talk about it in the context of our community - and things which were changing there.
    I had a couple of trusted friends with whom I was able to share and pray and that helped hugely.
    When I eventually told them it was time for me to move, they were surprised, but equipped, and that led to our last weeks together before the actual move being a huge blessing.

    be blessed - and know God's call when it evetually clarifies

  3. On my first Sunday preaching at my present call, an elderly lady came up to me and said, "I wanted to meet you since you will be the one preaching at my funeral." At the moment, I laughed and said "I'd like to get to know you a little better first - I hope it will be a long time before I do that." Three years on, the lady is still going strong and heaven only knows if I will still be here when she goes to the heavenly banquet...

    Like Purple and MuthaH+, I've also talked about the fact that I am simply one of a long line of rectors in the life of this parish, just "passing through," and that one of the gifts of the lay order is that they are the faithful Body of Christ who remain and live into the life of the particular place.

    But back to your immediate challenge: I agree that taking a break as Jennifer suggests, something to feed your soul, may help you sit in the place of disorientation/anxiety a little more easily. Do you have some old friends (perhaps from seminary) with whom you can talk, to have a safe place to discharge some of the feelings. That might give you the space to give some of your focus to the church.

    Good on you to be so aware of the challenge of this in-between time - some pastors don't even realize that they may be mentally and spiritually checked-out...and invariably, their parishioners do notice. Suffice to say, such situations often end badly...

    Prayers for a calm center in the midst of all that is swirling around you right now.

  4. The two best pieces of advice I received when I was in your position a year ago:

    1. use breath prayer to Be Where You Are. While anticipating the next thing is fun, it makes it hard to do your job, and you really do need to do your job. If for no other reason than that someone on a search committee somewhere is reading/listening to your sermons on the website, following your blog, or talking to a member of your church--you want to be living the best of your call. (not to mention that the people there still need a pastor.)

    2. start now making lists of things the next pastor/interim will need to know. Where are the pens? Are there any annual traditions (however obvious they may seem) in worship, fellowship, education, etc? Who are the shut ins/people with chronic illnesses/founding members/etc? Make a list of all the hymns you sing, of adult education topics for the past year, memorable moments in the life of the church. If there are programs you are in charge of, start writing out everything it takes to run that program, with a year-long timeline. Will church members need to pick up the slack on things like a new member class? Write a script of all that needs to be covered in a new member class. Etc.

    Just the act of writing all that stuff down helped me to mentally be where I was, because I was so immersed in the life of that church. It reminded me of good and bad things, clarified some things I wanted to be able to say from the pulpit or in the classroom, and gave me a pretty good idea of who I needed to connect with during my final couple of weeks.

    I remember the difficulty of that search time...the RevGals were an invaluable resource for me. Let us support you so you can be fully present through this process. Holding you in the light!

  5. This is very helpful to me as I currently find myself in a similar situation, trying to be faithful to my present call yet knowing that my time with them needs to be drawing to a close. I am trying not to allow all this to overwhelm me, and to find creative outlets for the energy that's pent up. It's a real challenge. Grateful for the question, the response, and the comments, dear sisters.


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