mzzy6gq’Tis the season to look forward to a new year and new opportunities. This week’s question asks for creative pre-transition strategies when a pastor is making a change:

Dear Matriarchs,

I’m planning to leave my current call next year, and while I already know this, the congregation does not, and won’t for several more months. 

I’m thinking of ways to prepare them–the elected leadership and the whole church–so that when the announcement comes, they are as ready as they can be: secure in their congregational identity and call, equipped for the transition, etc. 

I’m looking for suggestions on how to do some of that work now, before the anxiety and lame-duck phase begins, especially with the council. (Please no recommendations for Running Through The Thistles…been there, have that, looking for something more/creative/in-depth/interesting for this before-they-know period.)

From “Likes to Prepare”

* * * * * *

One of our Matriarchs has some ideas:

Dear “Likes to Prepare,”

I am also a planner. In each of my calls as I left I left a notebook for the pastor and the administrative assistant with all the things the next pastor might like to know to inform her/his leadership. I include the shut-in list, a calendar with monthly congregational expectations and traditions (like the 30th annual Scandinavian smorgasbord, or the ‘Blue Night’ worship – along with a sample bulletin), the current strategic plan along with projected completion dates for each item and who is in charge of each, a list of council and congregational teams, photos of arrangements for special worship services that have worked really well in the sanctuary space, passwords for various companies and the account information, who orders bibles for the third graders and when, etc., etc..  All the things that you wish you knew as the months ticked by in congregational life expectations, but no one thinks to tell you until it is very late for planning. 

None of these are meant to be prescriptive, but rather a “heads up” for the interim pastor or the next called pastor to inform them so they can determine how they would like to proceed knowing a bit of the history. 

I have never received a similar book upon my arrival, and frankly it has always puzzled and frustrated me since it can take months to figure out the trajectory and expectations. Of course, you cannot know that it will actually be used. That’s why I give a copy to both the incoming pastor and the administrative assistant. Still no guarantee. At my last call I showed the finished book(s) to the council so they would know I had done what I could to help in the transition. Then I can leave knowing I have done all in my power to leave things in good order, and to hopefully eliminate congregational members being overlooked (especially shut-ins). 

Blessings on your transition!

Anne Andert

* * * * * *

Thank, Anne!

What about you, dear reader? When you have left a congregation, what creative strategies have you used to create an atmosphere of good leave-taking? We look forward to your ideas in the comments below.

Do you have a challenge to work through in your ministry setting, or an opportunity you would like to embrace to its fullest? Our Matriarchs are here to help. Send your scenario to askthematriarch (at) gmail (dot) com.

Rev. Sharon Temple is a United Church of Christ pastor in Nashville TN.  She is a contributor to the RevGals book, “There’s a Woman in the Pulpit” and blogs at Tidings of Comfort and Joy.

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3 thoughts on “Ask the Matriarch: Creative Strategies for Leaving a Church

  1. I wish you well. I am a person who also plans ahead. Way too far in advance most of the time, but not with such a serious matter as your own. Since I am able to read this as a layperson, it makes me wonder if no one in your congregations is also privy to this info? Just wondering/


    1. from an RGBP board member/admin: this is why so many of our Ask the Matriarch questions are asked under a pseudonym–with thousands of people reading the blog, we want to be able to answer questions that might be of interest to a lot of people without “outing” the person who asked. Sort of an “if you’re wondering it, you’re probably not the only one” kind of approach, in as safe a way as possible. Hence this question being signed by “likes to prepare.” 🙂


  2. the denomination I am part of, has a rule that you can only stay more than ten years in one place unless there is a missional reason and special approval is given. From about the eight year mark, i was regularly asking, what do we need to do before i leave? a few people understood and checked that certain programs would be OK without me, but generally few responses – other than please stay.
    i tried to keep track of things i was doing that other people may not know about, or know how to do, or how or access resources. Then I found people that i could hand over those roles and resources.

    Liked by 1 person

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