Dear Members and Friends,
Only in the agony of parting do we look into the depths of love.
-George Eliot, 19th century
When we lose one blessing, another is often most unexpectedly given in its place.
-C. S. Lewis, 20th century
When a relationship ends, there is always sadness and grief. When that ending comes through death, there is intense grief, due to the permanent, complete, total finality of the human, earthly relationship. As people of faith, we hold firm to the promise of resurrection and the hope of eternal life with God, and through that eternal life, a reunion with loved ones in God’s eternal presence. When that ending comes through a divorce, or from friends or family moving away, there is sadness and grief, but there is also the prospect of a continuing relationship, even if that relationship will have changed in frequency or quality.
When a Pastor leaves a congregation, that sadness and grief are complicated. A Pastor develops a very close, intimate relationship with members of a church. The Pastor is privileged to accompany you on your life’s journey as few other people are privileged. A Pastor is there for almost all of the important life transitions: birth, baptism, first communion, confirmation, graduation, marriage, sickness, and death. A Pastor is there as confidante, spiritual advisor, pastoral advisor, even friend. And while a human being just like you, the Pastor is one of the few people you can always count on to be available 24/7, 365 days, even when away on a day off or on vacation or even sabbatical.
So it is that when a Pastor leaves a congregation there is often intense emotions generated. And those emotions run strong on both sides of the equation – with the Pastor and with the people of the church. It is important that we all acknowledge those emotions, especially any sadness and grief, so that we might properly say goodbye to our current relationship and so that we might prepare ourselves for our new lives. To do that we need to be aware of the appropriate boundaries that we will honor moving forward.
In the United Church of Christ there is an Ordained Minister’s Code by which we strive to live out our ministry in the Church. That code includes an understanding of Ordained Ministry, of Partnership in Ministry, of Growth in Ministry, and Commitments to Self and Family. The Code includes a section on the Ethics of Ministry. Three of those ethical standards are:
- I will not, upon my termination and departure from a ministry position, interfere with nor intrude upon the ministry of my successor.
- I will not perform pastoral services within a parish or for a member of a parish without the consent of the pastor of that parish.
- I will deal honorably with the record of my predecessor and successor.
In the United Church of Christ Manual on the Ministry there is a section of guidelines for the Local Church in Relation to Its Pastor. Those guidelines also address the ethics of ministry with this statement:
We recognize that we have called our pastor as the pastoral leader of this local church, and we will not invite other pastors to provide pastoral services within the church or to members of this church without our pastor’s consent.
My final Sunday with you will be June 10, and at that time we will join together in releasing one another from the vows and commitments we made 24 years ago at my installation. You will be asked, Do you, the members and friends of Christ Congregational Church, release Steven Hudder from the duties of pastor? One of the questions addressed to me will be, Do you, Steven Hudder, release this local church from turning to you and depending on you? These vows of release, informed by those Ethical Guidelines which govern our work together, remind us that our bond within the Church of Jesus will never change, but the nature of our bond will indeed undergo significant change; the vows mean that I will not longer be performing pastoral services for you, nor leading any worship services, nor discussing any church matters with you. The vows mean that you will not expect me to perform such services nor make such requests of me.
After June 10 you will be entering an interim time of ministry and your leaders are very close to securing an Interim Pastor to lead you during this time of ministry. The purpose of this interim time is to enable you, the members, to separate from me, your pastor of the past 24 years. Be open to this interim time so you will then be ready to accept and welcome a new, permanent, settled pastor with the kind of excitement you showed when you welcomed me. Nothing will give me greater joy than to know that you are continuing your wonderful ministry in this place. For our separation to happen and for you to begin building new relationships, first with the Interim Pastor, and then with your Permanent Pastor, I want you to understand that I cannot and will not officiate at any weddings, or funerals, or baptisms, or offer any pastoral or spiritual guidance.
The boundaries necessary for a healthy separation are greatly complicated today by social media. I am not greatly active on Facebook, or Twitter, or Instagram, or any of the myriad other platforms. But I do have a Facebook page and the Church has a Facebook page. I have already removed myself as one of the Administrators of the Church Facebook page so that I will not accidently post anything on that page moving forward. While I have not solicited church members to be Facebook Friends, some of you have solicited me and I have always accepted invitations to be Facebook Friends. For a period of time I cannot continue to engage in that social media relationship in order to allow you time to connect with your new Pastoral leadership. So all of my CCC Facebook Friends I have placed in a special Facebook list and as of June 10 I will be “archiving” that list. This will mean I will not see any of your posts nor will you see any of my posts on Facebook. After you have called a new, permanent, settled Pastor, (sometime in the next 2-3 years) then I will “un-archive” that list and at that time, if you still wish to remain Facebook Friends I will gladly participate with you.
While our mutual love and affection remain, (and trust me, Dianne and I will miss all of you very much and will have our own grieving and healing to engage in over the next several months) the professional relationship of pastor and parishioner must end. I will no longer be your pastoral advisor or spiritual advisor. Nor will I officiate at Sunday worship, weddings, funeral, or baptisms. Those will be the duties, privileges and responsibilities of your new Pastor. If you wish to send greetings, or are traveling through Savannah and want to stop and have lunch, our new address will be:
540 E. Gaston Street, Unit A
Savannah, GA 31401
We will gladly answer any correspondence, but will faithfully refrain from commenting on anything going on at Christ Congregational Church. Also, I do plan to resume writing regularly on my blog, Sabbath Tango, which you may connect to at the link:
Again, I will be sharing my reflections on life, God’s world, retirement, etc., but will refrain from any commentary on life at Christ Congregational Church.
As I have said several times over the past few months, THANK YOU for the privilege of serving you for 24 years as your Pastor. It has been a great honor and an amazing adventure. I will take many great memories of our time together with me into the future. Dianne and I will continue to pray for you and I trust you will continue to pray for us. We will miss you terribly, but I know, because you are in God’s hands, you will be fine. You have EXCELLENT leaders among you guiding you. And good leadership is on the way.
See you in church.
R. Steven Hudder
Pastor, Christ Congregational United Church of Christ
Palmetto Bay, Florida