This month of December and the early days of January mark the ending of my 20-year ministry with you. I cherish every moment with you in these Advent days. I’m grateful for the informal ways you are saying thanks already. I’m doing my best to reciprocate the gratitude.
I want to take a bit of time as I prepare to finish this ministry among you to make clear what being a ‘former’ pastor will mean. When we leave, UCC pastors are called to separate from a church in a healthy way so the congregation can move ahead emotionally and spiritually. On my last Sunday (January 6) with you we’ll share words of blessing and as well as a litany to formally end my pastorate. Both are important. Without doing them, we won’t be free for what the Spirit might guide us to next. It doesn’t mean we love any less; it means we learn to live with new boundaries.
So, what do those boundaries look like? I expect that January 6 will literally be my last day in the building and in my office. Tammy and I will still be living in Madison. Many of you have asked what’s coming next for me. I plan to ramp up my work as a facilitator for the Center for Courage and Renewal. I’ve also been in conversation with a couple of entities about some part time ministry work. I don’t expect things to be ready to share publicly before I leave, but if that changes, I will let you know. I hope, in general, to use my experience and time to be of service to other clergy, the wider ministry of the church, and the interfaith work for justice in this country. While I am not specifically retiring, I do hope to work less than I have in recent years.
You may see us from time to time, at the grocery store, on the bike trail, at a concert or in a coffee shop. If you run into us, feel free to say hello; you don’t have to pretend we don’t exist! We shouldn’t chat about what’s happening at ORUCC, though; the future of the church needs to stay with all of you. Our daughter, Kythie, is not bound by the same ethics. She will be finding her way into a new relationship with the congregation too; now that her parents are not part of it.
After my final Sunday, I won’t do baptisms, weddings, funerals, hospital visits or be providing support during difficult times. I won’t attend church here. I will ask Ken and Tammy to let me know of any deaths so I can hold family and loved ones in prayer. At the same time, it is important for you to lean into your connections with your other two current pastors, as well as your incoming interim and permanent senior pastors. As I make my way around the wider community, I will continue verbally to support the work of the church, knowing you’ll find new directions that are exciting and future oriented.
I expect to remain involved in the statewide work of the United Church of Christ, as well as UCCI (Our Wisconsin UCC Camps). I may cross paths with some of you in those contexts, and if so, we’ll need to do our best to stay out of the pastor-parishioner relationship. Please recognize that when – or if – I put a limit on the conversation, it is out of love for you and the church. I plan to remain available as a volunteer for the Dane Sanctuary Coalition, although I will not hold leadership positions. I will continue as a board member of the Mellowhood Foundation until such time as that seems to be a conflict with any successor of mine. Knowing that the departure of both Debbie Bauerkemper (Office Manager) and I within a month results in the loss of institutional memory, I will remain available to any of the pastors for any factual questions they have about the building or past practices.
Another sensitive place of connection is social media. We need to make space there, too. For those of you who are my Facebook friends or Instagram followers, I’ll be either defriending or unfollowing you for a year or more, which means I won’t see your posts and feel tempted to comment. I invite you to do the same, until your new permanent pastor has been here for a while and you have a solid relationship with them. The social media terminology can sound ugly, but it really is about making space for what comes next.
Sometimes these boundaries are hard to hear. I offer them, though, because I dearly love this congregation. A church cannot move forward with a former pastor lurking in the background. Your focus needs to be on your future together, seeking out your next leaders and vision.
Orchard Ridge UCC is full of saints and blessings, full of energy to serve the world and to care for one another. I know you will continue to sing with gusto, pursue hard questions, and make room for those seeking a new spiritual home in the Madison area.
Please don’t hesitate to ask questions about these boundaries.
With deep love,