Our question this week is from a RevGal who is dealing with her version of an all-too-familiar tale in RevGal world: the Beloved Former Pastor who has not made a gracious and supportive transition to being “former.” Here’s her story:
Dear Matriarchs ~~
I began at this current church last spring, following a man who served here for 20 years. The transition — specifically the need for the Beloved Former Pastor (BFP) and his family to separate from the church and from the people for a year — was handled poorly from three different entities: the judicatory person overseeing the church, the pastor himself, and the then-personnel committee chair.
The BFP has stayed in the community, has relinquished his pastoral credentials, and has maintained relationships with church members, including initiating social gatherings. Most recently, he has convened the youth group — which had basically folded this fall — on a regular basis at the former leaders’ home. (Most of the youth group members had no connection with the church other than youth group.)
The poor way this transition was handled has resulted in twelve people leaving the church, most of whom followed the BFP and his family to a new place to worship. This has resulted in a loss of about 1/3 of our small church’s income.
One of the people who left has continued to invite people from our church to worship at the new church home of this group. The people who have stayed at the church are sweet, wonderful people; I am enjoying the lack of bullies and disgruntled people who left in the upheaval.
The one year separation period will be over this spring. At least one person — still in relationship with the BFP — has the expectation that we will be ‘one big happy family’ once the one year separation period is over. Some church members are honoring that one year timeline, but will re-establish relationships with the BFP and his family this spring. When he was pastor, the BFP did not set healthy boundaries with the church folks, maintaining family-type relationships between his family (with young children) and parishioners who often provided free babysitting, very generous gifts, etc.
It seems to me that this BFP will continue to maintain relationships with these church folks, and I’m trying to figure out how/if I can live with that. Since he has given up his pastoral credentials, there is no accountability with the judicatory to hold him to our code of ethics regarding leave-taking.
I know the reality that most people who follow a pastor of long tenure are, in effect, interims and usually only stay a year or two.
- Do any of you have experience in a church where a bad start regarding the involvement of the BFP turned around and things eventually went ok?
- How did you learn to set aside any of your personal feelings about the interference of the BFP?
Rev. CCP (Concerned Current Pastor)
* * * * *
You are not alone, Rev. CCP. Our Matriarchs are here with some awesome support and advice.
Dear Rev. CCP,
In my opinion, a working relationship between you and this congregation has been set up to fail on at least three different levels. I have seen a relationship start out bumpy, and eventually smooth out, but that was only because the judicatory was able to ‘right the ship’ so to speak. Clearly BFP has NO interest in doing this well, and so your options are very slim. I don’t know what your situation is as far as being able to move from there, but if you want to be anything more than the associate pastor of BFP then I’d encourage you to start/continue the process if possible.
In a much more minor situation, I handle my own personal feelings by reminding myself that in the long run, things will smooth out and come to light. But I also recognize ‘in the long run’ may be long after I am gone. Also, I am in a larger congregation that can absorb some of that anxiety; not everyone had a relationship with the staff members that have remained in the area. It is admittedly hard to see the situation you’re involved in resolving any time soon, and I fear the one who is set up to get hurt the most is you.
Hello, Rev. CCP–
I do sympathize, having some experience of a parish where a 22-year tenure blighted at least two of the ministries that ensued, and was still making ripples in the community 25 years after the retirement.
There is one tactic which I can recommend because it worked for me even though I stumbled on it inadvertently. It requires a certain amount of cold, steely nerve… because it has to be whole-hearted and carried out with a smiling face (drown him in melted butter poured from a great height, if that image helps).
Basically — WEAR HIM OUT… Welcome him warmly, consult him about EVERYTHING (hey! no and then you may learn very Useful Stuff by so doing) and invite him over and over to do all sorts of leadership tasks, preferably those which involve lengthy exposure to parish-members in less-than-perfectly-comfortable circumstances. If the members of the parish don’t get thoroughly sick of him first, he’ll get tired…because at this point I am sure he has no idea how much less energy he has, than he thinks he has. Let him find out. (The Dear Old Soul I am thinking of came and looked at me reproachfully — after a funeral at which he had eulogized for FORTY-FIVE MINUTES — and said “You know, I don’t think I can take on these tasks any more…” This is your cue to pat the forearm affectionately and say, “Dear Old Soul, nobody in his right mind could ever say you HADN’T DONE YOUR SHARE — you are ENTITLED to take your ease, and I hope you will.”
Another tactic is to apprise him “in advance,” or “privately,” of new developments, new acquisitions, new assets and invite his approval.
As my dear Daddy used to observe, “You can slide a lot farther on some substances than you can on cinders.” I commend that advice.
If this sounds cynical, I apologize…
blessings upon your patience
Err. Your denomination should have indeed done a better job (and what’s with the one year separation policy? Is that your denomination’s expectation because a year is not nearly long enough.)
I will assume that your predecessor loves this church and wants it to thrive and flourish in the coming years. This will not happen if he continues to interfere – plain and simple. I wonder if someone he trusts in your denomination might go with you to have a friendly conversation during which you can convey that:
- You are grateful for his ministry.
- You know he must miss that ministry and the people he served for so many years.
- You know he wants that ministry to succeed and for the church to grow.
- This cannot happen without his cooperation which means: allow you to live out your call; be intentional about stepping aside for at least another year; agree to refrain from anything that looks like “ministry” (e.g. gathering the youth, meeting former parishioners for prayer or friendly visits, etc.)
If he cannot agree to this, let him know that he is choosing to hurt the church and to hurt you.
Again, I will make the sacred assumption that he doesn’t want to hurt the church or you. But ask him to put himself in your shoes. You need room to connect with the congregation yourself and that won’t be possible if he stands in the way.
Be strong out there – Jan Edmiston
Dear Rev. CCP,
While the judicatory cannot do anything about a pastor who has relinquished credentials, I wonder what other support they might put in place for you? Could someone (Presbyter, D.S., Conference staff, etc.) who has experience come and talk with your leadership about leave-taking and boundaries? I really think that’s a conversation best led by someone other than you. When the current pastor states standards and expectations, it often comes off as selfish or defensive.
And, because I don’t know of any situations like yours that have worked out well, I wonder what sort of supports you have in place for yourself? Do you have a trusted colleague group, counselor/therapist, coach, or spiritual director to aid in discernment about whether this call feels right for you under the circumstances?
I hope you will be able to get support that will be of help.
RevGals BlogPals executive director
Clergy Coach at marthaspong.com
My strongest recommendation is that unless you want to function as the intentional interim for the next two years, start looking for a new call. The systems that would protect you from the former pastor’s unethical behavior are not functioning. Without judicatory limitations, he can do anything he wants, including creating a new congregation. His behavior over the last year has been utterly unprofessional and his status as BFP puts you in the position of being unable to criticize him without seeming uncaring.
As much as possible, please document the FP’s actions in writing and submit it to your judicatory official. This is their problem as much or more than it is yours. I would not measure your situation against other stories, negative or positive. You need to decide if you are called to weather what is certain to be a stormy year or more.
If you don’t already have a trusted mentor in place to support you at this time, please find one. Situations like this can cause us to second-guess ourselves. If he’s so beloved, why am I so angry? Maybe it would be okay to be one big happy family. You need at least one other person around who can keep reminding you that the FP does not have the best interests of the church in mind.
Prayers ascending for bravery, strength and clear vision.
Rev. Heidi Rodrick-Schnaath aka RevHRod
* * * * *
Thank you, Matriarchs! What a variety of approaches and ideas.
How about you, dear reader? Have you had your own experience with a BFP? What worked for you? What do you know now that you wish you had known then? Please weigh in below in the comments.
Are you facing a situation that is confounding &/or stressful? Our Matriarchs are here to support you through it. Send your scenario to askthematriarch (at) gmail (dot) com
Rev. Sharon M. Temple is a United Church of Christ pastor serving 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.
RevGalBlogPals encourages you to share our blog posts via email or social media. We do not grant permission to cut-and-paste prayers and articles without a link back. For permission to use material in paper publications, please email revgalblogpals at gmail dot com