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Leave Taking and Ministry

While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off. Acts 13:2-3

Dear Friends in Christ,

 

Part of the rhythm of life of a congregation is the coming and going of many people. People move to town and join, or are stirred by God to discover the parish, or are born to families already here. People drift away or leave or move away or die. Staff people and clergy are called to ministry, and also called forth to new ministry or to retirement. These are times of joy and sadness—and sometimes the same occasion brings both joy and sadness. And when we are open to receive his blessings, God carries us through these times and continues to form and shape us as his people.

 

This May 5, we will give thanks to God for the Rev. Elisa Harres as she retires from full time ministry and finishes her more than fifteen years of service at St. Peter & St. Paul. I hope that you will join us for this time of worship, and celebration at a special reception. We have much to thank God for in Mother Elisa’s time with us, and we send her off with our blessings and our prayers for her well-deserved retirement.

 

So there is joy—joy for Elisa and joy for all the blessings God gave to us through her. And there is sadness—sadness that she will not share with us in ministry in the days ahead. God will surely provide for us, but we must adjust to Elisa’s absence and open ourselves to the future God has for us, and for new clergy that will serve alongside us.

 

When clergy serve a parish, we share life with people, growing close to so many. These are Christian friendships, often. But for clergy and lay professionals, we remember always that these are first and foremost pastoral relationships. Losing sight of our pastoral responsibilities has a track record of hurt and pain in churches, and so we are wise to honor the people we serve. Especially when taking leave of a parish, we want always to support the parish in forming relationships with the clergy or leaders who will come after us. Likewise, parishes honor their former clergy by saying goodbye, and giving them the space they need for the next chapter in their lives. Experiences (good and bad) over the years have taught churches how clergy leave taking can go well, and how it can go poorly, and how it can go horribly wrong.

 

Many are unfamiliar with the implications of all of this. For instance, someone asked if Elisa will be able to come back to conduct funerals or weddings. I responded “but then so many would have her preside at their funerals or weddings, and Elisa would not get to be retired.” And it would be all the harder for us to form new relationships with new clergy, opening ourselves to new ways that God is blessing us. So Elisa will retire and find a new parish in which to worship, and discern how God is calling her to serve him as a retired priest, and as a woman of God, a mother and grandmother. And she will have the space to enjoy a well-deserved sabbath from her long and fruitful service with us. Just as we did for Beth Knowlton and Ceci Duke and many others, so we will say goodbye to Elisa, and we will let her go, celebrating what God has given us in Elisa, and celebrating what God has in store for Elisa.

 

Then, just as we did for Beth and Ceci, and Elisa, we will then welcome someone new to serve as an Associate Rector. Whoever God sends us will not be Elisa. This will take some adjustment for me, for the staff, for lay leaders and so many who have been blessed by her care. But whoever God sends us will bring different experiences, new gifts and a new voice for us. And God will give us new opportunities to bless and form and shape this priest in ministry. Some of us will follow Elisa’s example and exercise our own gifts of pastoral care and leadership. Each of us—lay and ordained—will find new ways to serve together, taking what we’ve learned from Elisa forward, and opening ourselves to new things that God has in store for us.

 

This is the process of leave taking in ministry for Elisa and for us, a process of thanksgiving, grieving, celebrating and discovery, all in the care of God’s abiding presence and power. For God, who called Elisa here and is calling her from here, will be with us always, even to the end of the age.

 

Please share with me in this process, and feel free to speak with me further if you have any questions. Pray for us, that God will bless Elisa and this parish in the days ahead.

 

Yours in Christ,

 

-Tom

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