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Sharon’s Sabbatical Reflections August 24, 2014

I read Ed White’s, Saying Goodbye today  While the book is fairly old having been published in 1990, I was anxious to read it.  Some years ago I travelled to North Carolina to take a five day course on long-term pastorates with Ed White.  He was on the Presbyterian Synod staff in the DC area for many years and followed this with a successful career as a consultant with the Alban Institute.  When I arrived at the conference centre it was clear that this course was over-subscribed.  We could barely squeeze into the room assigned for the lectures.  Undaunted, Ed declared that he intended to sit and have a meal with each of us during our time together.  On the last day, he and I sat down for breakfast (a consequence of having a last name beginning with “W”).   Ed had many gifts as a teacher, consultant, facilitator but, in that hour we had together I got to encounter a man with a ‘pastor’s heart’.  He seemed genuinely interested in me and my ministry with WPUC.  While we spoke of the past, he was very intentional about guiding our discussion to the future.  He poked and prodded until I was able to bring to clarity my hopes and dreams.  This went far beyond my expectations of what would happen at this course.  It left me feeling a great debt of gratitude to be on the receiving end of such kind, intuitive and insightful ministry.White acts as editor of this book, drawing from a host of writers expertise on leaving churches.  A large portion of the book focusses on a pastoral move from one church to another.  Obviously, this is not what I will be doing in a couple of years.  So I paid especial attention to the portions devoted to retirement.  There are many sage pieces of advice:  retirement is not an announcement, it is a process;  goodbye means goodbye!;  get help and support to navigate the transition, and more.  One feature of  this book I appreciated was the selection of liturgies/worship ideas to guide the transition time.  While they might not all be right for us, I think at least a couple of them would be a real gift to use.  The suggestion of the creation of a transition team from amongst the congregation also seems wise to me.  This group would usher along my time of leaving and continue to set the stage for the new minister.  I like the idea of an orderly and intentional transition.  There was a part of this book that was hard to read.   This section was titled:  “What are the ethics of the relationship after we’ve said goodbye”.  I imagine all retiring clergy see themselves as highly ethical and professional.  We’d all like to think of ourselves as gracious, humble and selfless.  This section of the book testifies, however, to the tangled mess of emotions, relationships and good intentions that can come into play when a minister retires.  The current terminology is “boundaries”.  We are supposed to know them:  clergy and laity.  Joan Mabon offers a chapter; “My friend, the former pastor”, that cuts like a knife into the heart of a pastor’s love for the congregation they are leaving.  She lists ten negative effects a minister can have on their former congregation that leave me feeling very prickly with anticipatory guilt.I guess the point of this book, and this sabbatical, is to discern how to make a good leaving.  As Christians we have learned that as dreadful as Good Friday was, it was followed by Easter which transforms our lives daily.  Hard stuff usually leads to the good stuff.  We can approach this with our eyes and our hearts wide open or we can cling to the shadows.  This is a time of enormous opportunity for us and I, for one, don’t want to miss any of the great things waiting to happen.So, just by way of warning, I am floating the idea of “hockey church”, an alternative to Sunday morning that so many families find a difficult time to gather for worship.  Another moniker that came to mind was SOS (Sunday on Saturday); a late Saturday afternoon family time of worship/Sunday School.  I’m excited about what may be on the horizon.  I’m still dreaming and listening to the Holy Spirit.  Want to join me?Sharon

Categories: General News, Sharon