With Dr. Bruce Hartung
Thanks to Pressure Points readers who responded in such thoughtful and helpful ways to the January column concerning retired pastors and, in the words of the retiree who addressed the topic for that column, “the role a retired pastor takes in the congregation where he has current membership.”
A sample of those responses follows, each designated by a separate “R.”
R: “I think Luther states it best (St. L.V, 1037): ‘Though we are all priests, yet we all neither can nor should for this reason preach, teach, or rule. But from the whole throng we must select and choose some to whom we entrust this office; and whoever conducts it is not a priest on account of his office (which they all are), but a servant of all others. And if he can no longer preach or serve, or if he should no longer desire this, he again steps among the common throng, entrusts his office to another, and is nothing else than an ordinary Christian. Thus you must distinguish between the ministry, or the office of service, and the common priesthood of all baptized Christians.'”
R: “The Texas District addresses this in its pamphlet titled ‘Guidelines for Ethical Conduct of Called Servants of the Gospel of the Texas District — The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod.’ … In this booklet there is a sample covenant between a departing pastor and a congregation. Included in this covenant are these words: ‘Normally, I will not be available for baptisms, weddings, or funerals of members of the congregation, except by the specific invitation of the vacancy pastor or of the pastor whom you call. Although some of you have become close friends through the years and I would certainly like to continue that friendship, it must be understood that I will not discuss the affairs of the congregation. As a pastor emeritus, I will not hold office or serve on any committee of the congregation. As a pastor emeritus, … I will conduct services, preach, and perform ministry only at [the newly called pastor’s] request or direction.’ “
R: “The question of a retired pastor really is not confined to just a pastor in our churches. I have seen a principal of our school retire and have the same struggles as were described by the retired pastor. I know it may be hard for a principal to give up being in such a central position. Yet continuing to work to influence, either directly or indirectly, is not helpful.”
R: “Our retired pastor pitches in, in wonderful ways. There is no question in the eyes of the congregation, though, about who our current pastor is. The pastor and our retired pastor work together beautifully.”
There is a need for clear boundaries in this area. That seems quite evident from the responses. At times, the intrusion of a retired pastor causes considerable difficulties (as several other responses not printed specifically attest). But at other times, it looks like the use of a retired pastor or principal works well for everyone. I wonder what makes the difference.
At a human level anyway, perhaps part of the difference is the capacity of both the parish and the retiring worker and spouse to actually work through the issues of change and loss that are involved. Pre-retirement workshops that focus on this, personal counseling for the worker and spouse, and facilitated parish discussion about the transition would be key.
One reader wrote, “After fulfilling a role for years, it must be difficult to stop on an exact dime.” Indeed! This transition time can be difficult for the worker.
The ritual connected with this might also be central. The retiring pastor, participating in the installation service of his successor, plays a special part in acknowledging and blessing the shift. The same could be true of the installation of other church workers.
Rev. Bruce M. Hartung, Ph.D., is dean of Ministerial Formation at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted May 5, 2010