Leaving well – Resisting the temptation to hold onto past pastoral relationships

Terry DeForest
Terry DeForest. Photo: submitted

by Terry DeForest

In the midst of our anticipated grief, it was not something that we necessarily wanted to hear. Nevertheless, at a fall gathering of the Clergy and Licensed Lay-Workers of the Diocese, Bishop Michael Bird announced his intention to “leave well” when his term as Bishop of Niagara is over.

While he is going to be living on the eastern edge of Algonquin Park serving parishes in the Diocese of Ottawa, and therefore is not likely to return frequently to Niagara’s territory, this is not really about distance and travel time. It is about declared intentions and best pastoral practice. In this, as in so much else, Bishop Michael is setting an important example and he was exhorting the rest of us to follow that example.

The Bishop’s licence to ordained ministers affords the most wonderful privileges to share deeply in the lives of the people of God. Those privileges are indeed sacred and the temptation, at times, is for both cleric (or, in this case, bishop) and people to try to hold on to those pastoral relationships. However, that temptation is worth resisting.

In the resources provided by the Interim Ministry Network for the training of interim pastors, there is a liturgy of farewell which includes this important exchange:

“Do you members and friends of ______ Church, now release Pastor _______ as interim minister?”
People: “We do, with God`s help.”
“Do you, Pastor ______, release _______ Church from turning to you and depending on you?”
Interim Pastor: “I do, with God`s help.”

What is true for interim pastors, is even more so the case for former “settled” ministers.

We all need to work through our loss of and changes to that special connection, so that those who are next appointed with the Bishop’s licence can fulfill the solemn charge given to them, in their turn, to “love and serve the people among whom you work.”

The desire to include significant people (such as former clergy leaders) in significant moments (such as weddings and funerals) in our lives is quite understandable. However, the invitation for such inclusions should come from the person to whom the responsibility for those ministries is now entrusted — the Interim Pastor or new “settled” minister. And that inclusion ought not to be at the exclusion of the current licensed minister.

Bishop Michael has declared his intent to set us free for a new ministry partnership with a new bishop and by so doing he is teaching us all about best ministry practices.

The Reverend Canon R. Terry DeForest is Vision Advocate and Director of Human Resources in Niagara Diocese.