What makes for a good good-bye?

Rectors come and rectors go. How do you make the going good? That is the question that Mary C. Lindberg asks in Separation Anxiety, an essay on the blog of the Alban Institute. She writes:

Pastors say good-bye to congregations. Sometimes our good-byes are timely and sweet; sometimes they are jarring and painful. But as we hear the click of the front door of God’s house and stand on the sidewalk, we face a unique journey of grief.

In our ministries, we brushed up against holiness; so do we now, in our good-byes. Now we must pull apart the strands of self and role, individual and community. Now we must confront regrets, confusion, and dislocation. Now we must figure out where and who God is at this juncture in our lives.

But before we step out, God invites us in—into Word and Sacrament, into relationships, into our offices, and into our emotions about leaving. Within all these areas we look for answers to the big question we suddenly face: What makes a good good-bye?

Do you have an answer for Lindberg's question?

Comments (1)

I think part of a good "goodbye" is acknowledging the change in the relationship that has been reached.

When I left Trinity Cathedral in Cleveland (granted, as Canon of Congregational Life), this was what I said in my final sermon:

Tomorrow will come: and I will no longer be your priest.

I have been honored and blessed to have as my vocation the sharing of all of your hopes, dreams, and fears. I have Celebrated the Eucharist, proclaimed the Gospel, preached sermons, baptized new members, prepared and presented Confirmants, presided at marriages and unions, and have mourned at funerals with so many of you. Those are the big celebration moments. What has been even more sacred is the laughing and crying we have done together. I have spent the last six and a half years in some combination of talking and listening with all of you, and there is nothing I would trade for these moments.

This is the role of Priest. I have been honored by your sacred trust, in the willingness to enter into the relationship that is priest and congregation member. It’s a strange, complex, multi-faceted, and uncertain relationship: started by some life transition, developed in unexpected moments, nurtured by gentleness with each other, damaged by assumptions and unattainable expectations; and marked by grace and the opportunity for unexpected new life.

It is a fragile yet surprisingly resilient relationship that mirrors our very humanity.

And, like our very lives, the time passes. During our Healthcare forum series, Jeffery Spiess offered us the inspired title, “Dying is not an option.” This is true of the relationship of Priest and the Gathered Community: at some point, it always ends, sometimes by members of the congregation moving away, sometimes by a priest moving on, sometimes by retirement, sometimes even by death. Priest is a relationship that always transforms into sometime else.

I will no longer be your Priest tomorrow. That’s what we’re saying goodbye to today.

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