United Church of Christ

February 2020

“I don’t know who I am apart from my identity as pastor.  The church was my whole life.  I don’t have relationships outside it, other than family.  Now that I am retired, I am not sure how to be a congregant.”

As a Committee on Ministry, it is important to engage with authorized ministers at pivotal life and vocational moments.  The transition to retirement is for some a distinct setting down and for others is a season of gradual leave-taking from formal ministry.  Intentional conversation in this time provides both support and an opportunity to clarify and reframe boundaries.  When pastors transition to retirement, so much changes: it’s more than leaving a job, it’s a reforming of identity and relationships.  Some are happy to lay down the mantle of pastoral care and commitment and others can’t quite imagine who they are apart from the role. Some ministers experience both sets of conflicting emotions. This makes negotiating retirement particularly challenging.

The first question is about how to best make the transition.  What resources can the Committee on Ministry provide to help an authorized minister have a good and clear ending from a congregational setting?  A Sure Foundation offers best practices for leave-taking, and your COM may have additional resources.  If retiring from Specialized Ministry, the relationship with the covenanted faith community needs to shift, even if church membership remains in the same congregation.  COM and Conference staff can be called upon to be present and help ritualize these transitions. 

In retirement, it may be difficult if not impossible to completely remove the mantle of pastor.  Therefore, power and boundary conversations will continue to be important.  If the Association does not offer a specific Boundary Awareness Training for retirees, having an initial discussion will help frame appropriate expectations for the clergyperson.  An initial conversation might look something like:

Other congregants will naturally turn to retired clergy as experts in church matters.  While this might feel affirming and normal, it’s an opportunity for the retired pastor to reframe and shift the focus to the church leadership instead.  Though the church of membership can and should be a place where retired clergy’s pastoral care needs are tended to, the church cannot be a place where ego needs are met.  Because clergy’s voices are amplified, it’s imperative that those conversations become opportunities to affirm and support the congregation’s pastor, staff, and leadership whether they happen publicly or in individual interactions.  It will also be important to develop an open relationship with the pastoral team at the church of membership, where the pastor can provide support and feedback to help navigate these dynamics. 

Clergy should be reminded that there are resources for additional support beyond the local church.  The Situational Support Consultation offered by the Committee on Ministry would be one place for support, especially if there is conflict around departure, and many Associations offer Ministerium gatherings and/or Communities of Practice where clergy can share the struggles of identity shift and relationship needs in retirement.

Lastly, questions of standing are raised in retirement.  They may arise quickly or may need to be discerned over time.  Retirement may begin with a Leave of Absence or consideration of Exempt Standing, or even a transfer of standing if the retiree is relocating.  And a retiree may choose to keep their standing as Active – even if they begin to receive retirement income.  The financial decisions made with the Pension Board are distinct from determination of standing. 

Section 2.3 in the Manual on Ministry and A Sure Foundation will be important guides for a Committee’s conversations with retired and retiring authorized ministers.  Clarity, intentional conversation and support will help traverse this season.

Questions to consider:
What supports does your committee have in place to navigate the transition from leave-taking to thriving in retirement?
How does your committee assist in ritualizing and supporting the transition to retirement?  Are these rituals and support pieces available to specialized ministers? 
What other resources might be important to develop for retired clergy?

Other COM News:

The MESA Team is hard at work finalizing Section 3 Resources for the Manual on Ministry, available on the Manual on Ministry page. Access these materials from the website as needed; over time they will be updated periodically, with most recent revisions noted at the bottom of the document. Current resources have a blue stained-glass banner and are easily identified as Section 3 Resources.

At our MESA Team Retreat last fall, the team discerned that in 2020, MESA needs to prioritize the production of training videos for Committees on Ministry to be able to use at their convenience. As a result, MESA will not be offering live Zoom trainings for the first half of the year except in exceptional cases. During that time, MESA will still be able to provide in-person conference COM trainings, and to consult as needed. Further, knowing the value of live trainings involving multiple conferences, MESA will discern the best ways to offer Zoom trainings in the second half of 2020. In the long run, this will advance our shared goals of accessible and available COM training materials to meet the varied needs of the Church in different times, so we are grateful for your understanding.


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