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When you leave – leave

When you leave – leave

The Rev. Dan Webster at Church Social Media Blog reports on a November 22 Twitter™ discussion of clergy cutting ties with people of their former cure:

Last week’s chat focused on professional and personal boundaries in social media. I mentioned how when I left a congregation as vicar, I would “unfriend” parishioners on my Facebook page. “When you leave, you leave,” I tweeted. Not everyone agrees.

He recommends a brochure from the Diocese of New York for guidelines on healthy leave-taking.

The Twitter stream reveals a variety of opinions about how detached clergy must be when they leave a position. Read it here.

I know of situations where the former rector could not stop meddling and needed to cut his ties. And I know of places where clergy are mature and have good boundaries who remain supportive members of the congregation – as I have found at my current call. Three retired clergy remain members, available for support and consultation but clear about telling people to talk to me about church issues.

What do you think? What is your experience?

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Elizabeth Kaeton

This has been an excellent discussion, revealing that "one size does not fit all" - especially in congregations. Each parochial situation needs to be handled individually but the consensus seems to be that good boundaries need to be maintained. John Snow once called the priesthood an "impossible vocation". Indeed.

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Jim Hammond

As ordained clergy, we ask people to trust us as we attempt to lead, yet the example we set upon departure is to sever all human ties? That model simply does not make sense today, if ever it did. I say, "today" because we now live in a more connected world complete with instantaneous communication across the globe and social media.

As one who retired nearly four years ago now after a fifteen year tenure in a pastoral sized congregation, I understand that the dynamics likely differ from place to place and from cleric to cleric. When I was asked by the new rector to return as a 'Priest Associate' on a part-time basis at the end of my first year of retirement, I accepted only after the vestry and bishop agreed to the idea. With the benefit of hindsight, I think returning in any formal capacity was a mistake in my particular case.

I do not think, however, that we can invite folk into close, trusting pastoral relationships and then turn around and upon departure sever all ties. With the benefit of even more time in 'retirement', I think good leave-taking is very hard work even under the best of circumstances.

No one intends to leave poorly, and no priest wishes to create difficulties for one's successor. However, as in day-to-day parish life, I do think there is wisdom in the notion of keeping very good boundaries, and to the extent possible, to keep one's distance after retirement in a manner consonant with maintaining the safety and trust we ask congregants to give us as clergy.

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Lee Alison

As part of my leave-taking, I handed back to the respective leaders in the congregation all the symbols of ministry: water to the most recently baptised, bread and wine to the altar guild, oil to the pastoral care team, music to the music director, processional cross to head acolyte, lectionary book to a lector, keys to the wardens and so forth. That sacramental action also helps establish that the congregation really has what it needs to move forward in the interim time. My situation is a bit odd because I am in between cures not knowing what God has next in store, but still living in the rectory so I wouldn't end out on the street. Nonetheless, I am maintaining boundaries as best I can so the congregation and I both can move forward... especially since in the past (and up to today) some in the congregation have not been able to let go of previous rectors.

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Kurt Wiesner

It turned out that I was motivated enough to write on this at my own blog:

http://osc-religionandpopculture.blogspot.com/2011/12/does-leaving-as-priest-require.html

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Kurt Wiesner

I like the comments here a lot. I also thought that the NY guide was helpful.

I think that honoring the change is really important, and that the end of the "pastoral" relationship is critical.

I enjoyed this blog post which was a response to Dan.

http://blog.ourchurch.com/2011/11/30/when-a-pastor-leaves-a-church-should-he-unfriend-all-parishioners/

Kurt Wiesner

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