Monday, March 30, 2020

How to Leave a Pastorate During a Pandemic

If you're like me, you announced to your congregation earlier this year that you would be resigning as their pastor and taking a position elsewhere. For me, that will be a move to a national position with the denomination. Maybe for you, it's another pastorate or some other form of ministry.

The arrival of the coronavirus pandemic and the resultant measures to keep people safe have probably thrown a wrench into your ability to say goodbye and have a good ending with your folks. And you may need some helpful tips on how to do so now that you've been ordered by your state not to meet in large quantities and basically to stay in your homes except for essential needs.

I sure don't claim to be an expert, but here are some things that have worked for me.

1. Tell yourself the quarantine order will be over sooner than later. Like, definitely before your last day. You'll certainly have that final chance to celebrate your many years of ministry with your people. There's no way this will go on for longer than that. Repeat these delusions...sorry...these completely true facts to yourself as often as needed in order to believe them.

2. Once you realize that you've been lying to yourself and that your end date is getting way too close for an in-person farewell to be a reality, choose your favorite coping mechanism to drown your sorrow. I really like bourbon and chocolate. For various reasons, these may not be right for you. Experiment for as long as you need to find what's best.

3. Be sure to pick up a few books on how to leave well. I recommend Running Through the Thistles by Roy Oswald and Ten Commandments for Pastors Leaving a Congregation by Lawrence Farris. Laugh every time you realize that something they've written doesn't apply to these completely unique and whacked-out circumstances and imagine the scenario where these resources would truly have been helpful. (Spoiler: you'll be laughing a lot. Like at every sentence, basically.)

4. Don't clean out your church office all at once. Take your time so as not to overwhelm yourself with anxiety or grief. There really is no rush until your state issues a stay at home order. When that happens, hurry to the church on your day off to throw the rest of your stuff into your car. The books you were meaning to donate to a thrift store? They belong to your church's library now. That one cabinet you assume you'd have more time to clear out? They're now gifts for your successor. Your sudden lack of time is still a win for others!

5. Allow yourself to be awakened in the middle of the night by guilt about how you're leaving in the middle of a hard and uncertain situation. And because you're also worried about your health and the health of your family, you may have the bonus of having all the anxiety caused by these separate issues mix together. And don't forget the added stress of worrying about how your new workplace is being challenged by all of this in their own way, and wondering how you'll be able to come on board successfully. When you realize it's a few hours later and it's time to get up, accept that your longterm goal to cut back on coffee intake will have to wait.

6. While preparing yet another Sunday of online worship on Facebook Live, run across an article about how worshipping over the internet is superficial and not authentic compared to worshipping in person. Ask Jesus for forgiveness for wanting to reach through the screen to punch the author because IT'S A PANDEMIC PASTOR CHAD, WHAT OTHER OPTION DO YOU EXPECT US TO USE RIGHT NOW?

7. Remember, at the last, that you are still someone called by God to minister to people, however imperfectly. Prayerfully consider how best to be present for your people, and remember that your leaving is adding to their grief and anxiety just as much as it has added to yours.

Make phone calls. Check in on them, just as you have been doing even before the world turned upside down. Preach God's peace into their anxiety as faithfully as you're able. Write them a pastoral letter, sharing your grief at this less-than-ideal ending and entrusting them fully to the leadership that will come after you.

And in an act of defiance and hope, go ahead and switch the sanctuary paraments to Easter white. Maybe this is for them, or maybe it is for you. But it can be some small sign that resurrection still comes, even if it's not exactly on your schedule.

Then take a picture and send it to Pastor Chad. It'll drive him nuts.