Today, our Board of Pensions is generously hosting a luncheon for our retired pastors and – gratefully – there will be no drama over the Walgreen-CVS Express Scripts controversy this year. Or so we can only hope.
We have a lot of retired clergy in our Presbytery and they are gifted, valuable, fun, and interesting. Our retired clergywomen – especially those who have been ordained for 40+ years – have stories that all our 20 and 30-something clergywomen should probably hear. Jaw dropping/inspiring.
The agenda today is about Medical and Pension benefits, but I would love to have an occasion during which we could have a healthy, honest talk about the relationships between clergy currently serving congregations and their retired predecessors. Because my job is to share information that is often tough to hear, this is what I imagine saying, on behalf of my actively serving colleagues:
1. Please do not introduce yourself as the pastor of your former church. Even if you say, “I’m the former pastor of Big Church on the Hill” or “I retired from St. Stella’s Presbyterian” it’s not helpful. It looks like you still identify, first and foremost, with that particular congregation and the fact is that the congregation needs to move on for the sake of its future ministry. Please just say that you are retired, and if interested, someone will ask you where you used to serve. Then, feel free to share that information. But when you start with your former church’s name, it looks and feels like you are still connected in a way that keeps the church back there.
2. Please continue to keep fresh and share your wisdom. Ask our retired clergy who serve on important commissions in our Presbytery. They have the exquisite opportunity to share their wisdom while hearing about 21st Century Church World. It’s fantastic . . . unless you are that guy who can’t stop talking about how great it was in the 1960s when your church had 500 members or how kids today have bad theology and don’t know what they are doing. Really, don’t ever say those things.
3. Consider co-mentoring a new pastor. This is for you if – and only if – you are hungry to learn. Good mentors never act as if they know everything or have cornered the market on pastoring. Honestly, you still have so many things to learn and you have so many things to teach. But nobody will want to be mentored by you if you are patronizing or unteachable.
4. Don’t ever drop in on events in your former church. Just don’t. If there’s a party for the 90 year old Christian educator and she was also on your staff back in the day, it doesn’t mean you are automatically invited to the party. If there’s a ribbon cutting for the new homeless shelter in the new wing of the building, you should not show up unless specifically invited by the current pastor.
5. If you lose your mind for a minute and ignore #4, for the love of God, do not make the event you’ve crashed about you. Do not burst in on the scene and start telling stories about how you are the one who thought up the homeless shelter idea. Do not regale the staff – many of whom have never worked with you – about how you remember the party for the Christian Educator when she was only 80.
6. If you are lonely, feeling purposeless, achy, cranky, or worried about the future of Christendom, please give me a call. Do not take these maladies out on your former church. I will try to help you recalculate, as my Garmin daily offers.
7. Remember that it’s a good thing for life to move on. Without necessary losses, life becomes stagnant and sad. Yes, losing our life’s work, our friends, our loved ones, our abilities, our “power” is also very sad – because all transitions involve some measure of grief. But we are people of faith, aren’t we? We are enormously blessed to be in a denomination that cares about its retired servants. We have opportunities for new ventures. We belong to God.
Fun plan: At the Retirees’ Lunch today, I’m going to interview people to find out what they’d like to tell active clergywomen and men. Stay tuned.