Updated August 2023
Bishop’s Policy for Priests Ending A Pastoral Relationship with a Congregation
All of us are entrusted with ministries for a season. We inherit our pastoral cures from someone else, and we will turn those cures over to those who are called after us. It is an important part of our care to be as thoughtful and intentional about these transitions as possible. We must create physical, emotional, and spiritual space for a congregation to form bonds of trust and affection with their new pastor. It is essential that pastoral boundaries be set and upheld when a cleric departs a congregation.
Communicating Your Departure
Once you have discerned that it is time to depart your current congregation, please be in touch as soon as possible both with Canon Karen Olson, the diocese’s transition minister, and with the vestry or bishop’s committee at your congregation.
It is the Bishop’s expectation that as a priest leaves a congregation, he/she/they will bring closure to pastoral relationships with members and with community groups and organizations through which they are affiliated due to their role with that congregation. As part of the transition, the priest and wardens should work together to communicate in writing the nature of and need for new boundaries, naming specifically that the priest will no longer be available for baptisms, weddings, funerals, hospital visits, or other pastoral care.
Please include in those communications to that congregation:
- the timeline of your departure;
- the changed nature of your relationship with the congregation after your departure;
- the plan for a liturgical service of leave-taking, such as that provided in the Book of Occasional Services. We are a people formed by how we pray, and a liturgical acknowledgment of the changed nature of relationships is an act of pastoral care for both the priest and the congregation;
- a plan for pastoral care after your departure;
- the assurance that my office will walk closely with them during this transition.
Boundaries After Departure
Once the priest has departed, the Bishop expects that the priest will:
- Accept no further requests from members and former members of the congregation to provide pastoral services at weddings, funerals, baptisms, or any other occasion of public worship for at least one year. After one year, clergy may accept invitations, but only direct invitations from the new Rector or Priest-in-Charge, and may not solicit such invitations or accept them from former parishioners.
- Accept no social invitations from former parishioners. While the mutual care shared in pastoral relationships is real, clergy are never simply friends of parishioners, and the pastoral component cannot be meaningfully separated from the social.
- When a former parishioner reaches out to a departed priest for pastoral care or to officiate at a sacramental liturgy, the priest should redirect the former parishioner to their current Rector or Priest-in-Charge. At the Rector’s invitation alone may the former cleric officiate at pastoral services in his or her former congregation.
- Resign from boards, organizations, ecumenical clergy groups, or any other affiliations of which the priest is a part due to their relationship with the congregation.
When dealing with the ethics of clergy transition and boundaries, the relationship between the former priest and the new priest is critically important. One of the single biggest assets in a new priest beginning their ministry is the support and collegiality of their predecessor.
It is also understood that it is the responsibility of the former rector or priest-in-charge to enforce boundaries with their former congregation. It is not the responsibility of the incoming priest to establish and communicate those boundaries on behalf of the predecessor.
Finally, it is a critically important part of a priest’s long-term wellness to actively cultivate social and emotional connections outside of any congregation they are serving. We are always in a dangerous place, and vulnerable to inappropriate behavior, when we are looking to get our own needs for connection, love, and affirmation met by the people we are sent to serve. Doing our best to build and maintain significant relationships over time outside our ministry contexts is one of the best gifts we can give ourselves, and the people for whom we are pastors.