Pastor Transitions: He’s Here!

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Part 3 of a 3-part series


One day you discover that you are laughing again! That is the wonderful post-grief experience of noticing that life has moved on and you have settled into a new pattern. This is similar to the experience of the disciples in the Emmaus story when they are returning to Jerusalem, excited and energized. The disciples invited the stranger in and discovered a fire in their hearts that energized them to return to the community with hope. (See Luke 24:13-35.) For you, a new pastor is in place and there is no turning back. Where can you find energy and hope in this new beginning?

Growing Through Change

Allow the time and space for the new to take root, re-envisioning the parish’s mission and identity as the people of God. As you accompany the parish through this transition, work with parish leaders in proactively welcoming this new person into the community.

■■ Prepare for the new pastor’s arrival in advance. Ask how he would like to be welcomed — receptions or smaller gatherings or something else. Ensure that everything is in place, from a clean office to a plan for helping him become familiar with the parish-wide calendar.

■■ Look for opportunities for open and honest conversations about the state of the parish. How can it grow through this change? Can it let go of an old identity and allow the Holy Spirit to create something new? Involve parishioners in these dialogues.

■■ Be patient with those who struggle or choose to leave … and some will. Determine your own boundaries in conversations about what has happened. As you personally navigate this final stage of transition, there is an element of surrender involved. Find a way to see this as sacred time as your new reality settles in.

■■ Spend time in discernment and prayer. Decide what really matters to you. Be curious about new possibilities. This is all part of taking control of your response to the situation.

■■ If you decide that you are willing to continue serving this community, ask the Holy Spirit to breathe new life into your ministry as you open yourself to new expectations and ways of doing things. Be willing to be flexible if the incoming pastor changes your position description or responsibilities.

■■ Begin developing a relationship with the new pastor. It may be tentative at first if you have not previously worked with him. Remember, he is going through his own emotional process as well and may be nervous about ministering in a new place. Know that getting along with the new pastor is not being disloyal to your previous pastor. In many ways it is a compliment to his leadership that you can carry on after he has left. Refrain from calling him for advice, particularly if you are hoping he will influence the new pastor. He has moved on and needs to focus on his own new beginnings.

■■ If you have discerned that it is time for you to move on, whether into retirement or another position, honor yourself for having the courage to make that decision. It is also possible that the pastor will ask you to resign. Be prepared for that, as well. Have an updated resume, know what resources are available to you, and look for new opportunities in your area.

Perhaps what you most need to remember is the lesson learned by the disciples on the road to Emmaus and the disciples in the Upper Room. Even after all that had happened, Jesus did not abandon them. He walked with them in their doubt and confusion, energized them in the breaking of the bread, and poured forth his Spirit. And so, too, will Jesus be there for you. Blessings on your new journey!

MARTI R. JEWELL, DMin, is an associate professor in the Neuhoff School of Ministry at the University of Dallas and was recently named the university’s 2017 Haggar Scholar. She is Director Emerita of the Emerging Models of Pastoral Leadership Project, a national research initiative studying excellence in parish leadership, and author of Navigating Pastoral Transitions: A Parish Leaders’ Guide.


This article was originally published in Catechist magazine, March, 2018


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