Why Pastors Need to Leave Their Parish When They Leave

Tough subject ahead. Ready?

Here’s the thing: no pastor is perfect at this.

Even me.

Social media has made this all the harder, of course. A “like,” an easy comment on Facebook or Instagram, a quick “check-in” for curiosity.

It’s easy. It happens.

But it’s largely not a good thing, especially at first.

But even years later, even today, I still see pastors, pastors I know, showing up to do weddings or funerals for people at parishes they used to serve.

And, yes, I get it: they think it’s harmless. “They don’t go there anymore,” they say. Or, “they haven’t been there since they were a teen,” they say.

But guess what, pastor: you’re largely doing that for your own ego and desire to be needed.

Because you know what? They’re absolutely less likely to show up at their former church now because you still continue, even years later, to hold that role for them.

And that’s honestly not helpful.

You know why we wear that robe, pastor? That white robe?

That white robe is the robe of a servant, yes. But even more so, it’s a robe that makes you interchangeable with any other pastor out there.

That’s what our theology says.

So, you saying “yes” to that destination wedding is just you disregarding that theological truth.

And you know what?!

Just because you say no to the invitation to do a wedding or a funeral doesn’t mean you didn’t mean anything to them. You did! Good on you! You did so much that they want you to be a part of it!

And you can be a part of it: sitting at table 9.

Or by doing a reading.

Or by sending a nice card and a gift with your regrets.

With one exception, for a childhood friend, I have said no to every wedding, funeral, and baptism I’ve been asked to do since leaving parishes. And I don’t say that as a badge of honor, but rather as a testament to me trying to walk that walk.

I care deeply about the people I used to serve.

Deeply.

So deeply that sometimes I wonder at night about their life and how they’re doing and hope they check in sometimes. And when they do, I always respond back in love and respect.

But I do so now from afar. With boundaries I try imperfectly, but really hard, to keep.

With deep love, deep reverence for who we used to be to one another, but with an even deeper understanding that for both of us to live our best lives into the future I must commend them to other people’s care, and they must honor that boundary.

Pastors who perform pastoral acts for others who used to be in their parish do so because they can’t say no to their own ego and need to be needed.

And sure, sometimes that pastor who left asks for permission from the pastor currently at the parish, but let me ask you this: what pastor is going to say no to that request? In such a moment of tenderness, probably with a family they haven’t had the chance to bond with, or who views them with suspicion, the power lies not with the pastor currently serving the parish, but with the former pastor who is called forth from the past like a reminder of other times.

That power dynamic sucks so much.

I would love to preside over the wedding of every youngster I served.

I would be honored to say parting words at every gravesite for those I tended to.

I’d love to baptize every newborn that comes along to families I married and nurtured.

But that’s not OK.

Let those with ears to hear, hear.

What’s To Prevent Us?

Today the church honors St. Philip the Evangelist, not to be confused with Philip the Apostle…or any of the other nine hundred Philips in the ancient world. Seriously, it’s like they were short on names…

Philip was one of the Greek speaking disciples chosen in Acts 6 to distribute food to the widows and the poor in Jerusalem. This was the first organized ministry we have recorded by the ancient church, and note that it wasn’t planning a Harvest Festival, Rally Day, or a Christmas Bazaar.

It was feeding people.

Philip would go on to preach the gospel in Samaria, where Simon the Magician was said to be converted by him. It’s worth explaining that “Magician” in the ancient world probably meant “Sorcerer,” which is pretty cool if you think about it.

St. Philip would be the one to break down barriers in the church when he encountered the Ethiopian eunuch on the road and helped him make sense of the scriptures. This important Ethiopian was a sexual minority, and I think it’s important on National Coming Out Day (here in the United States) to honor the fact that St. Philip in the First Century welcomed a sexual minority in the church through baptism.

If only the modern church would emulate St. Philip.

Well, actually, it’d be best if the modern church would emulate the Ethiopian, wrestle with the scriptures, and ask to be converted.

St. Philip was also known to have four daughters who were called prophets in the early church. They hosted St. Paul on his journeys, and it is thought that he ended his ministry life preaching and baptizing in Asia Minor.

St. Philip is a reminder for me, and should be for the whole church, that the organized faith has a long tradition of welcoming and affirming humans from all walks of life. St. Philip, when entertaining the possibility of withholding the sacrament of baptism from the Ethiopian, received pushback from the traveler, saying, “There is water here. What is preventing you?”

What prevents us from extending the accepting grace of God to people?

The question remains.

-historical bits from Pfatteicher’s New Book of Festivals & Commemorations

-I love this icon, but cannot find who wrote it. If you can find it, please let me know.