Monday, December 9, 2013

Ministry Musings: Transition and Death, Part 2: A Prophetic Response, and a Personal One

As I wondered about the many questions raised by the situation explained in my previous post, I found one of my usual standards for discernment coming to mind: Micah 6:8.  And I considered:
The new pastor:  It is surely a matter of justice that she be allotted the space and freedom in which to commence and establish her new ministry.  It is a matter of kindness that I not clutter her life with the distraction of my presence and others' feelings about me.  And it is a matter of humility for me to recognize that I am no longer called to minister to that congregation.
Moi:  It's an issue of justice that I am no longer officially burdened by the demands of a former congregation.  It's a kindness to myself that my care is focused on one group of people and not dispersed between two -- something I should surely recognize after the month of November! ~ in which I was preparing to leave one church and to begin anew at another.  And certainly I am humbled by the recognition that the new and unfamiliar is now my bailiwick, rather than the known and comfortable.
The deceased:  Well, he's dead. I'm not one to see signs of the dead in this life.  Maybe once, with Josh.  My mother has been dead for 53 years and not once have I felt her presence.  But I think that if this gentleman could come back, he would tell me that I had served him generously and well and, as someone long active in the church and its transitions and politics, he would say, "It's time for you to move on and let the pieces of the puzzle fall into their new places.  The church is imperfect in its practice of justice, kindness, and humility, but it's better that we try than that we just blunder along on the basis of our own limited responses."
And, the most important person, to my way of thinking:  The widow.  Here's where it falls apart for me.  It is, to some extent, both just and kind that her and her family's immediate care, including the entire funeral, be the responsibility of the pastor to whom she is entrusted for the next several months.  That pastor is likely to learn much more about her in my absence than she might in my presence, and thus will be able to provide better care in the weeks to come.  And as far as walking humbly with God ~ without a tried and trusted pastor of two years alongside of her, she may be pushed toward God in ways that I might delay, simply by virtue of being a familiar comforting presence.
The truth is, it does not seem kind to me that someone should be without someone she has come to trust in a time of acute grief.  And, knowing full well what it is like to see people of every degree of relationship return to their lives with astonishing speed, I really, really, really hate being one of those people.
I suppose that I, myself, am being pushed toward a deeper understanding of the communion of saints.  But I'm not exactly inclined to embrace that possibility.
Does this raise issues? Oh, yeah.  I am so thoroughly sick of death and its ripples throughout every other relationship in life.  At sixty, having just closed out a decade in which many of my friends have encountered death up close and personal for the first time, I feel as if it has saturated my entire life ~ and it's going to get worse, not better, as we all age. 
I have no conclusions to offer.  I have some more personal reactions to explore, though: Maybe in a few days.


  1. wow this is good stuff, Robin, and I do thank you.

  2. As you have already stated it is not black-and-white.

    If you have moved 13 states away the question is moot. But, is not that easy.

    Personal experience: My parents were in a one-vehicle accident which claimed the life of my father and my mother was seriously injured and became a paraplegic. Obviously, she was unable to attend and/or plan the funeral. It was my siblings and I who were confronted with that issue. The pastor where mom and dad attended church was new...and he did not know either of them...except that mom baked communion bread for them once a month. We did not know him either. We asked that the previous pastor be asked to officiate (he was within an hour or so). Bless his heart...he said no. Rev. Surender met with us, listened to us, and did a beautiful job. We also felt very cared for by the people who attended the funeral and the cards which we received.

    Side note: My maternal grandparents were still alive. Their pastor lived closer to the hospital where mom was hospitalized and he visited once a week for five months. He did that for his grandparents.

    From a different perspective: After I left the veterinary clinic to attend seminary, I was in the community for three months. I cannot tell you the number of people who called me, asking me advice on their pet, and could I come over and take a look to see if it was serious. These were clients I had from anywhere from a year to 15 years...and there was another veterinarian at the clinic. I had to say, "I am no longer your veterinarian."

    Just my two cents

    (blogger and wordpress are not talking today)

    1. This is so helpful, Elaine. Thank you, and blessings to your mom. I am so grateful on your behalf that New Pastor completely rose to the occasion - and so did Former Pastor.

      :) on the vet parallel!

  3. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. It's interesting to hear the struggle from the other side. As part of a congregation which has been without a pastor since August 1st, and which most likely will not have even an interim until well into the new year, this has been an interesting time for me of considering what the roles and responsibilities of pastors are. From being (like your children) a little appalled at the way relationships and care can just be turned off after ten+ years to having the joy of watching a congregation wake up and take back responsibilities we've been all too happy to pass off as 'pastoral' jobs instead of looking out for each other--visits, meals, prayers, planning, preaching, sharing... It has not necessarily been a time of growth for the congregation numbers wise, but for those who have stuck around and stepped up it has definitely been a time of personal growth.

  4. Another take in the discussion:

  5. Robin, I love the Micah 6:8 discernment journey through everyone's experiences. I appreciate the issues you raised and the whole conversation, even the ambiguities and things left unsolved. The comments are also amazing. Thank you for linking to my blog. I will do the same for both of your blog posts.

  6. "The truth is, it does not seem kind to me that someone should be without someone she has come to trust in a time of acute grief. " I know this is probably not going to be helpful, but this one line sums up my feelings about this whole matter. I know most of the folks who read/comment here are ministers or are at the least very involved in churchy things. And I am...not.

    I get that there have to be boundaries...or maybe I don't. Seems to me that in a church that has what looks like a pastoral revolving door (or is it common in your denomination to only be at a place for a short time...? I don't know the answer to that question...) those "boundaries" would keep the congregants from ever having deep relationships with their clergy. Who wants to open up to or come to depend on someone who is only going to be around for a couple of years? Doesn't seem quite right to me...but, as I said, I don't really do church...

  7. I was a pastor at a new charge, and had been the pastor there for about six months. I had asked for announcements from the congregation, and one of my congregants announced that the prior pastor was going to be doing a funeral in the local funeral home and we would be having the funeral dinner at my church. That's how I found out the prior pastor was coming back, and when I did some digging, found he had been coming back to do funerals for months, just this was the first time they used the church for the funeral dinner. Never had he called me to discuss it. I had to walk out of the sanctuary during meeting time, and managed to get it back together while they were playing the opening hymn to finish the service.

    I hope never to give such pain and anger to another pastor over the course of my service in the ministry.

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