Monday, July 11, 2011

Retired Rectors/Pastors as Members?

This last Saturday and Sunday I celebrated at the parish from which I retired three and a half years ago.  The rector was away at camp, and his normal sources of backup were  otherwise engaged.  I imagine it took some courage on his part to even ask me.  To tell the truth, I was a little nervous about it too.  Things are done differently now.  The Saturday night service is a variation on a eucharistic prayer from the New Zealand Book of Common Prayer.  Beautiful, but unfamiliar to me.  Sunday always includes a children’s sermon, something at which I am truly lousy.  
It’s not like we’ve been totally absent.  When we are in town and I’m not preaching elsewhere, that’s where we worship, so we are still well connected, but as parishioners, not clergy.  As it turned out, everything went well.  It felt good to be leading worship in a familiar place among (mostly) familiar people.  Selfishly, it also felt good to know that I did not have to open up, double check every arrangement, resolve a few last minute issues, and then hang around to turn out the lights and lock up.  I could just relax and be the visiting clergy.
St. Paul’s is a bit unusual among congregations of almost any denominations in that it has two former rectors in the congregation, both me and my predecessor.  It seems to work OK.  I think that is because each of us is comfortable in our roles and supportive of one another as good friends.  Most important, we retired rectors are very intentional about avoiding even the appearance of second guessing the current rector.  To top it off, the congregation also includes two other retired priests from nearby communities.  A rector who as not confident in his or her abilities might have some difficulty with that.  I wonder if any readers have had their own experiences with retired rectors/pastors remaining as members of the congregation?

7 comments:

Malcolm+ said...

When I was a mere slip of a priest at 30, I had a retired Archbishop as Honorary Assistant. Not only was he the retired Archbishop, but after his retirement, for several years he had been Priest in Charge of the one congregation. For much of that time, he was also mayor of the resort community.

He continued to assist in leading the liturgy, and every Sunday we'd have coversation about who would do what. It always ended with:

Malcolm+: And you'll do the blessing at the end.

++Fred: But you're the rector.

Malcolm+: But you're a bishop.

++Fred: But you're the rector.

Malcolm+: That's right Fred. I'm the rector. You'll do the blessing at the end.

++Fred: (smile and slight bow)

Country Parson said...

Hi Malcolm
Sounds like ++Fred was an OK guy.
CP

Anonymous said...

My last congregation had the retired pastor of 30+ years stay on. For the longest time it went well. I always said I was comfortable enough with who I was not to have it bother me. He always said didin't want to be anything but a member. However, a former pastor can never be a "regular" member. Their every word, action, etc. carries more weight than it should. When I had issues with a staff member (that the former minister had hired)it was horrible. He tried to remain neutral but his silence gave the impression he didn't support my decisions. A former pastor can say "it isn't about me" (as in the post) but it is about the congregation's perception. In my experience it didn't work. Former pastors should be former somewhere else other than the
congregation they served.

Country Parson said...

Anon,
I've heard stories like that before, but I also know that during my eight years as rector, with the rector emeritus around, it worked out well. I valued his institutional memory, and there were a number of elderly persons for whom he would always be their pastor. There was a rector who served for a time between us, and I think his experience was more like yours. Perhaps that "interim" period is what made the difference. As for me, we are in attendance maybe once a month since we travel a lot more now and I serve a small rural congregation twice a month. As it is, this is a small city of only 30,000 so we are all going to be stumbling across each other one way or the other, and we have no intention of moving away. We need to make it work.
CP

Reverend Ref + said...

I'm following a 22-23 year pastorate, and probably about six months out from having the former rector present as a parishioner. I have heard about some things that make me wonder how his return will go down.

He was meddlesome during the interim's tenure and had to be reminded by the bishop to stay away. And, by all accounts, has a personality that almost requires he be in charge of everything.

However, I've also been told that he does okay with very clearly delineated boundaries. Which makes me think that when the time comes for his return to the parish, he and I will have a little chat in my office about my expectations.

Rob Culhane said...

I would like to be a fly on the wall of the Reverend Ref+ when he meets with the former rector who held charge there for 23 years. I read once that a new pastor of a Baptist Church was asked by one of those matriarchs every church has how he was going to fill the shoes of the former pastor who had servered for 20 years. His reply: "Ma'am, I'll bring my own shoes."

Country Parson said...

Rob,
That's good advice. When I arrived here eleven years ago I resolved to enter on my first Sunday as if I had been here for twenty years. It seemed to work. I had no shoes to fill but my own.
CP