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Dear Rev. Former Pastor… about that funeral

Dear Rev. Former Pastor… about that funeral

The Rev. Sharon Temple writes to the former pastor of the church she currently serves about maintaining pastoral boundaries:

Dear Rev. Former Pastor:

You just got the call from a beloved parishioner in your previous congregation. Their loved one has just died and they have called you. They want you to:

“do the funeral” — or —

co-officiate the funeral with me, Rev. Current Pastor

— or at least —

say a few words at the funeral

come to the visitation

stop by the house

“You will be there, won’t you?”

What should the former pastor do? Possibilities:

Your three possible responses:

The inappropriate “YES”: “Of course I’ll be there” — or — any immediate reassurance that you will be there for them, with them, present at the funeral or before or after the funeral. You expect me (Rev. Current Pastor) to make room and make a way.

The seemingly respectful “I’m sure we can work something out.”: “I’ll call Rev. Current and ask if we can work together” — or — “You need to call Rev. Current and get permission from) her/him”

The excruciatingly difficult “NO”: “I know that Rev. Current will see you through this” — or — “I am not available to do that.”

Read Temple’s thoughts about these situations and add what you think in the comments.


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Malcolm French+

Referring to one of Bill’s comments above, in Canada a wedding is, by law, a public event. Indeed, in Saskatchewan, the Marriage Act specifically requires that, for a wedding occurring in a private home, a door to the outside must remain open throughout.

Marshall Scott

No, Bill, you haven’t abdicated your status as an adult. My concern as a cleric is what I am accountable for. At that point, it’s not about what I’m empowered to do, but what I am responsible to do as a professional.

In that light, then, neither is it about telling someone they can’t attend a parish event. And that’s a difficult sticking point: an event in the parish’s public worship space is a parish event, open to anyone who might feel it appropriate to attend. That includes funerals and weddings. Most of us are polite enough not to attend a wedding when we’re not invited; but if a member of the parish showed up, sat down, and behaved appropriately, I would have no grounds to exclude that person. Funerals, which are commonly published, are even more open.

Now, if I’m invited to a wedding and I’m not officiating, I don’t wear clericals. I’m there as friend and family, not as professional. And I think the young priest is somewhat defensive about how former clergy might behave. That said, I have personally witnessed times when retired clergy have indeed caused problems; and sometimes where “partisans” of retired clergy have caused problems even when the retired cleric has done his or her best not to cause problems. So, again, for me personally my responses are about my responsibilities, not my rights.


“And, yes, sometimes that can include making decisions for the professional benefit of the person served, whether it’s to that person’s taste or not. ”

You’re free to make decisions about your own actions, including what to tell the clergy you supervise. You are not free to make decisions on behalf of your parishioners (such as telling third parties to stay away from the wake) unless they give you permission for that. I might call priests “Father” and “Mother,” but that doesn’t mean I’ve abdicated my status as an adult.

Bill Dilworth

Marshall Scott

I don’t know, Jim. We may not want to claim superiority, but at the same time there is a power differential, or at least a potential differential. What I have learned at a distance, and others have learned the hard way, is that we ignore that at our peril. To acknowledge clients (or parishioners or patients) is to acknowledge our accountability, our fiduciary ressponsibility, more than to assert some superiority – or at least it should be.

Jim Naughton

Marshall, I am not arguing that clergy and lay people need to be friends. I am arguing that if clergy see lay people as clients of a therapist, physician or teacher–which is the language I was responding to–then there is an assumption of superiority that I reject.

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