Aiding Pastoral Transitions
Tennyson may have noted that "In the Spring a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love..." But the United Methodist pastor's thoughts often turn to the possibility of a new appointment.
The cabinets are far along in their appointment-making work; as I once heard a superintendent say, "Most of the birds are in the nest." Although many moves can't yet be announced publicly, a lot of our pastors have an inkling about their new ministry settings. And with those moves comes the process of establishing new relationships with both the congregation and the Pastor- or Staff-Parish Relations Committee.
Kristy Nash, the wife of North Carolina Conference pastor Jeff Nash (New Sharon UMC, Hillsborough) wrote us a lovely e-mail sharing some of her experiences with itinerancy, and some resources she has gathered from around the United Methodist connection.
With Kristy's permission, we're sharing her (slightly edited) letter:
My husband told me that you are studying the SPRC/clergy relationship. I actually did my own research and met with our DS, Bill Gattis, about pastor transition, which I believe is a related issue.
I was previously a member of a church where the pastor left after 20+ years, and my husband recently followed a 20-year pastor, so I have experienced this major transition from both sides at two different rural churches. The "old pastor" has been with the congregation through many life changes over an entire generation - the loss is similar to a death in the family. Even if the "new pastor" makes no changes, just having that person there is a major change.
At one church, the pastor didn't use a computer, didn't attend many continuing education events, was on his wife's health insurance policy, and primarily used a wood stove to heat the parsonage. As a result, there isn't a computer in the pastor's office, the budget line items for various clergy benefits are well below the Conference's recommendations, and the congregation has no idea that other churches don't operate the same way they do.
At the other church, the pastor always mowed the several acres of grass at the church, taught Sunday school, and did many other things that he'd long forgotten weren't really part of the job. His wife taught Sunday school, led Bible studies, sang in the choir, and participated in all church events. They both were also very active with the youth group. As a result, the congregation expects the incoming family to do the same things.
How are those things navigated? Does the incoming pastor and/or family try to fit into these expectations? Do they tell the congregation that any or all of these things should be done differently? Because their ideas of church are completely different, the clergy and the congregations can begin a relationship in conflict.
I found a few good resources that are geared toward the United Methodist Church to help establish a healthy partnership between pastor and parish:
- Bob Kaylor is doing his thesis on Pastor Transitions, and he has some great information and suggestions on his blog.
- The Western Pennsylvania Conference publishes a booklet of standards on proper living and working conditions for United Methodist pastors.
- The East Ohio Conference has a brochure of guidelines for setting the pastor's salary [pdf].
I hope that you can use this information, and I am very excited about the work the Clergy Health Initiative is doing!
We are grateful to Kristy for sharing her thoughts, and we'd love to hear from other clergy spouses. If readers have other resources, please send them along! As Kristy noted, we're working on a study resource aimed at SPRCs, recognizing their importance in influencing the character of the church and negotiating conflict within the congregation, which, of course, has an influence on the health and well-being of all involved.
Our thoughts and prayers go to the pastors and communities across North Carolina who were affected by last weekend's tornadoes. To all our pastors: prayers and best wishes for a truly holy Holy Week.
John James, M.A.
Research Analyst, Clergy Health Initiative