Saying goodbye and letting go are difficult. To do both well helps insure a healthy transition to the interim period and later to the leadership of the newly called priest. The following guidelines, though often difficult for both priest and parish, provide a context for healthy disengagement and closure.
The priest must:
- Remove all personal belongings from the church including books and vestments.
- Give all parish keys and other parish belongings in his or her control to the wardens.
- Give the discretionary fund and any other funds in his or her control to the wardens.
The priest will inform the wardens, vestry and congregation that he or she agrees:
- Not to serve members of the congregation pastorally, and he/she will be clear with all parish members that his/her pastoral relationship with them has ended.
- Not to be available to officiate at weddings, baptisms, funerals or other services at the former parish except by specific invitation of the interim priest or the newly called priest, and then only for a weighty cause. Participation in such services is at the discretion of the interim priest or newly called priest. This does not preclude attendance at such services.
- Not to attend any social activities at the former parish unless invited by the interim priest or the newly called priest. Expect that any invitation may be after the new rector has been in place for a full year and not before.
- Not to have discussions of concerns about the parish with members of the parish. Refer such to the interim or new rector.
- Not attend regular worship for the interim period and a period of a year after the new rector arrives. Should the priest wish to attend his or her former parish after that time, the priest should contact the Bishop.
- Disengage from all parish-based social media platforms.
The guidelines recognize that, during the tenure of a pastoral relationship, genuine and often lifelong relationships are formed and that there remains a need on the part of the priest and some former parishioners to maintain these long-standing, meaningful friendships. However, it should be noted that clear distinctions between the pastoral identity and the identity as personal friend must be clarified and appropriate boundaries concerning the former must be established. It should also be recognized that continued participation in the life of the parish at any level may be a cause for pain rather than encouragement toward the new reality and development of new boundaries.
Guidelines for Departing Clergy’s Family:
The family of the leaving or retired rector or Priest-in-Charge, who may have engaged in ministry in or out of the parish, been part of leadership (Vestry), and in some cases employed by the church, is now in a delicate situation, having to deal with the new dynamic. It has been painful for some to let go because their ministry and networks were formed both because of their relationship to the rector and apart from that. Experience has taught that withdrawal from these activities is best. If one is a Vestry member, or employed by the church, that family member should resign.
The spouse/partner must also refrain from criticism of the vestry, staff, interim or new rector and avoid being drawn into any triangulation with members of the parish.
(Adapted from Episcopal Dioceses of Connecticut and Atlanta)