Things this minister wishes former parishioners knew

Last week this beautiful post by a Presbyterian minister in California popped up in my Facebook newsfeed several times. It was timely for me. A beloved member of my former congregation had just died, and I was deeply grieving the loss of a man who not only left his fingerprints on virtually every ministry in the church, but who was also a giddy grandfather, a mentor to young children, and a friend to many – including me.

Several people made sure I’d heard this hard news. I very much appreciated their efforts, especially since they were so busy with all the care and the details that fill the days leading up to a memorial service. But this influx of info strained my ability to maintain my boundaries. There were so many people I wanted to check on, pray with, and hear stories from. I didn’t, of course. I am a former minister at that church. I wonder sometimes if keeping this kind of distance seems cold to the people I have loved and served, though, and so today I share a few things I wish my former parishioners knew.

I still care about you. A lot. And I think about and pray for you.

I keep up with what’s going on. I subscribe to the newsletters of most of the churches I’ve served. (And I probably read them more closely than many church members!) If you ever friended me on Facebook, I read your status updates, even though I generally don’t “like” or comment on what I read.

It’s really hard for me to let someone else be your minister … I want to be the one celebrating milestones with you and offering a listening ear when you’re going through difficulty.

… but the line between friendship and pastor/parishioner is razor thin … As time passes – and as you claim your newer minister as Your Minister – we’ll be better able to see each other simply as friends.

…and I believe strongly both in the ethics of separation and in the abilities of your new minister. If I don’t step out of the way so that the current minister can share big moments with you, he/she will never earn your confidence. And because I trust in her/his competence, if I insert myself into your situation, I will have done so myself primarily to meet my own needs.

If this delineation seems harsh, it’s because I’ve seen – and experienced firsthand – the ill effects of predecessors with poor boundaries. It’s hard enough living in the shadow of the one who has served before. It’s downright frustrating when a former minister actively maintains his/her influence so that the new minister’s care isn’t wanted or needed. So I tend to err on the side of holding the line.

I will always carry with me all the experiences that we shared together and the lessons you taught me. You encouraged me, enlightened me, emboldened me, and ministered alongside and to me.

I am and will be a better minister to others because of having been your minister. Thank you for allowing me into your life, your home, your heart. It is one of the great privileges of my life to point you to the holy, and I have often encountered the sacred in you.

Untitled Creative Commons image by le vent le cri is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

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