Parting is such sweet sorrow

Feb 17, 2017

When the call is over and God is tugging you to whatever is next

Rev. Blair Lundborg

It happens to all leaders at some point in time. You feel restless in your call. You start looking at the list of congregations in transition and wonder what it would be like to serve in any one of those congregations. You may have come to the realization that your call is over and it is time to discern where it is that God is calling you next.

pastors.pngThere are a thousand reasons we come to this conclusion. The bishop and/or a member of the staff would welcome a conversation with you about your discernment. For the purposes of this article, let’s focus on the nuts and bolts of “how.” Once you have discerned it’s time to consider another call what do I do?

Start by updating your Rostered Minister Profile (RMP). In fact, you might want to complete your RMP as a part of your discernment process. It is often helpful to do the intentional reflection required of the RMP to bring clarity to what it is that God is stirring up in you. You may discover that you are right where you need to be and those restless feelings were just that- restless feelings. But if it has been a while since you have completed your RMP it might be helpful for you to update it. Go to your ELCA community account to start the process. The RMP is completed online and at your own pace. I would be happy to help you work through the process.

Talk to your spiritual director, mentor, or a trusted colleague. In addition to talking to members of your family, my experience has been that it is always better to invite someone into the discernment process. It lends a depth and perspective that we cannot bring to the journey by ourselves. It is also hard for family to be objective. Start with a conversations with a trust friend. Or get a spiritual director.

When you are ready to open yourself up to new opportunities call the synod office and, let me or the bishop know you are ready to activate your RMP. Once activated, your RMP is visible to all 65 synod offices and those who work with the call process in those synods. You may receive calls from synods that were not among your “geographic preferences.” That is a good thing. It may be God calling you to consider something you had not even imagined. Part of the discernment process includes sorting out the difference between a geographic “restriction” and a geographic “preference.”

When the new call comes, it is just as important to end well in your current call, as it is to start strong in your next. Be intentional about your leave taking. The bishop and I will help you walk through the process, including an exit interview. As you know, leaving one call to seek another is bigger than cleaning out your desk and packing your books. It means tending to the relationships you are leaving behind, even those that have been strained. Ending well not only helps you begin strong in your next call, it helps the next rostered minister get a healthy start in the congregation you are leaving.

Prepare a letter of resignation. Have it ready to mail (or email) immediately after presenting it to the council. By the way, a letter of resignation does not need to be “accepted” or voted on by the church council. Once delivered in written form, it is complete and final. Let us pause here for a few words about writing a letter or resignation. Here are a few guiding principles:

  • Less is more. Lengthy letters of resignation tend to send confusing messages. Save the more complicated closure conversations for face-to-face meetings. Mending broken relationships is also best handled face to face rather than in a letter of resignation.
  • Be honest but kind. You may acknowledge the need to seek another call AND let the people know you will miss them too. They get it. Most everyone has experienced the joy and sorrow of leaving one thing and starting something new.
  • Do not make promises you cannot keep. You will no longer be their pastor or deacon. Your pastoral relationship will necessarily end. That does not mean all your friendships will cease, but they will look and feel different. If you acknowledge that publicly it will help you and your friends say goodbye.
  • Be specific. Let them know where you are going and when you are leaving. Give them specific dates. It helps them (and you) prepare mentally and emotionally. The ELCA Approved Constitution for Congregations calls for a 30-day notice of resignation. That is a good amount. Logistics may require you to stretch it out a bit, but anything beyond 60 days becomes too drawn out. Long good-byes can be counterproductive. It often creates a lame duck season for the outgoing leader.

Graciously accept the congregation’s offer to throw you a farewell party. It may just be cookies and coffee after your last worship service with them, but a formal gathering to say goodbye is important. It marks the end and gives people an opportunity to bring closure to the relationship.

Give yourself some time off between calls. Moving is stressful. Starting a new ministry is stressful. Give yourself enough time to catch your breath before you begin your next ministry. Your new congregation will often be anxious to get going. There may be pressure for you to start as soon as possible. Remember, they have been in transition for 9 months or longer. They are anxious to get started but waiting another week or two for their new leader to settle in is not going to make a long-term difference. Take the time.