Transition into a New Call
This can be an exciting time of thanksgiving for both a congregation and their pastor-elect. At the same time, it can be a difficult time for the pastor being called and his/her family. The congregations of this Synod have been encouraged to be sensitive to the needs of its new pastor who is leaving one ministry and moving to a new ministry that may be very different. At the same time, a pastor who accepts a call must be sensitive to the congregation he or she is entering, and also to the congregation he or she is leaving. Each congregation is experiencing a transition, which includes both joy and grief.
There are six basic areas for consideration when a pastor has accepted a call. They are listed here, not necessarily in the order of their importance, but in the general order in which they occur.
A. STARTING TIME.
The time frame from acceptance of call to arrival may vary and should be agreed upon by both the pastor and congregation. The chair of the Congregation Council should consult with the newly called pastor to determine when the acceptance can be announced publicly. The acceptance of the call, the date it can be made public, and the starting date should be conveyed promptly to the bishop’s office.
B. THE TRANSITION.
During this new ministry transition it is important for a congregation and its new pastor to share their expectations openly and negotiate priorities. A transition team can be very helpful during this time. It may be appropriate for the Congregation Council to ask the call committee to serve in this capacity, at least for six months, since they are often the ones who know the new pastor the best. In the course of selection, they have already enjoyed a frank and open relationship, and have begun to develop a sense of mutual ministry. If some members of the call committee feel they cannot serve, they could be replaced as needed. A transition team can meet regularly with the pastor and other staff persons to discuss mutual concerns. Together they can seek to develop and strengthen their ministry. Some beginning activities in which the transition team might be involved include the initial move and settling in of the new pastor and his/her family. Arrangements for moving are made between the council and the new pastor. (Note: The congregation is responsible for all moving expenses.)
C. MUTUAL MINISTRY.
At the conclusion of the transitional period, a mutual ministry committee should be appointed in accordance with the congregation’s constitution. Most constitutions suggest a six member committee, three of whom are appointed by the pastor, and three of whom are appointed by the lay president of the congregation.
D. THE INSTALLATION.
A date and time for the installation is established among the new pastor, the congregation and the dean of the conference, in consultation with the bishop. The bishop normally presides until the peace and then the newly installed pastor presides; the conference dean normally presides over portions of the liturgy of installation of the newly called pastor and the reception of his/her family as members of the congregation. (The reception of the family may occur at another time if agreed upon by the pastor and his/her family.) The new pastor and members of the congregation arrange the service utilizing the resources available in the Occasional Services book. A Eucharist is desired. The new pastor may choose to invite another pastor to preach or the bishop will preach. Conference clergy and the members of the local ministerium should be invited to attend and vest. The color appropriate for the installation is the color of the day. The service of installation is held as soon as possible after the new pastor’s arrival. The installation is normally scheduled for a Sunday afternoon or evening which enables the bishop, conference dean, area rostered persons, and others in the community to attend. The pastor, in consultation with the Congregation Council, may want to designate an installation offering for a special cause. It is good to include a social event at the time of installation.
E. CARING FOR THE NEW PASTOR.
Caring for caregivers is a ministry that congregations can provide for their pastors. The transition team should keep the council and congregation aware of the need for adequate time for the pastor’s spiritual, physical and emotional self-care. The needs of the pastor’s family should be considered during the transition. The transition team should ensure that their new pastor has time for personal study, study in the company of others, participation in programs of continuing education and extended study. The congregation is expected to provide the new pastor the assistance, understanding, and financial resources needed for such study. Continuing education is an important time of renewal and learning for a pastor. Recent seminary graduates are expected to be involved in First Call Theological Education.
F. MINISTRY EVALUATION.
Evaluation is a normal process and is often scheduled for six months after the installation and annually thereafter. The leadership for this procedure may lie with the transition team, mutual ministry committee (staff support committee), or a committee established for this purpose. Such a process provides a way to periodically review how the ministry of the pastor and congregation meets shared expectations. Conflicts are reduced and effective ministry is enhanced when mutual expectations are clearly discussed. A list of resources for mutual ministry committees and a sample six-month ministry review are available.
G. PASTOR’S RELATIONSHIP WITH HIS/HER FORMER CONGREGATION.
A pastor’s leaving can be a very emotional time. Once the pastoral relationship with the congregation has ended by resignation or retirement, the former pastor should not return to do official pastoral acts such as weddings, funerals, baptisms, etc. The former pastor may return after a period of time at the newly called pastor’s invitation to preach for an anniversary or other special occasion. A pastor should never maintain friendships with members of a former congregation in ways that might undermine the developing relationship between the new pastor and congregation. A former pastor should remove him/herself as completely as possible from the life and ministry of his/her former congregation.