When a Brother Leaves

My good friend is leaving our area and taking a Call to a different congregation.  He’ll go from being 50 miles away or so, to being about 200 miles away.  Based on our shared vocation as pastors and fathers and husbands, it was hard enough to find time to get together, and of course the added distance is going to reduce that even further.  He’ll be in a different circuit (how my denomination loosely organizes congregations geographically), so I won’t get to see him once a month any more, but likely just a couple of times a year between personal efforts and professional gatherings.

Of course in these situations there is always difficulty and celebration.  It’s hard for a congregation when a good pastor feels the prompting of the Holy Spirit to pack up and move on.  It’s equally hard on that pastor to leave a good congregation.  But it happens, and in these situations as in all situations we trust the Holy Spirit and pray for forgiveness and the strength to move on positively.  We look forward to what new thing God will do in the situation (picking up on the theme for this Sunday’s readings).

There’s excitement on the part of the receiving congregation – the Holy Spirit has led them to a new pastor and there is excitement (and nervousness) for what that will mean.  Months of meetings and praying has culminated in a new pastor arriving, and it is a time to celebrate.

I don’t hear much talk about this process from the perspective of brother pastors.  It’s hard to believe that this summer will mark our ninth anniversary in California, where we’ve been blessed to serve two different congregations.  In nine years I’ve said goodbye to about half a dozen guys.  Some have retired.  Some have taken Calls elsewhere.  Good guys, all of them, but most of them not people I was overly close to.  But now I’ve had to say goodbye to two guys that I consider friends as well as colleagues, guys that I eagerly looked forward to sharing a drink with and hanging out, guys with families that became friends with my family.

Saying goodbye stinks.  I know the right theological language and I believe it completely.   I trust that God is at work in this process.  But at the selfish, emotional level, it just stinks.  In a profession that doesn’t lend itself to close friendships in many respects, losing friends is not fun.  I’m not aware of programs and books and pamphlets to help friends grieve during a Call.  Maybe I should write one.

But probably not.  I’ll just whine about it.

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