I started writing this in January, and am only now revisiting it on Holy Saturday, a day of very special significance in the Christian calendar, but which is typically ignored &/or misunderstood. More about that later…
When my spouse and I were about to retire, she and I attended a retirement dinner given by her employer. One of the other guests, who had retired a year or two earlier, said that the best advice she could give to new retirees was for them to remember that most things henceforth would be NMP:
Not. My. Problem.
For those who have been in administrative or supervisory roles, that’s a hard lesson to learn. For clergy, it can be even harder. We develop relationships with people, and establish ways of operating in our charges that create emotional bonds with people and places. If we didn’t do that, we wouldn’t be doing the work we are called to.
When we leave a place, we have to leave behind all the pastoral and administrative relationships that we developed in the years in that place. That’s a hard thing to do, for both us and the people to whom we have ministered. Some do it well, some not so well, but there will always be people who are hurt by the process.
During the first year in one charge, a parishioner whom I had only met in passing at that time came to talk to me. His wife had told him that their marriage was over. He had had a very close relationship with my predecessor, who still lived in the community while employed in a different ministry. The man was deeply bereft, not just because his wife was leaving him, but because his former pastor had told him to come and see me. He told me, “I thought that X was my friend, and he told me to go away.”
It’s easy for people to confuse pastoral relationships with ordinary friendship. When the pastoral relationship ends, as it inevitably will, does the friendship end?
My predecessor had done what he and I both knew to be the right thing by referring a pastoral issue to me, but the parishioner could not see it that way.
When clergy leave a place, the situation is reversed. Some people slough off the relationship like they do an old coat. “That priest is gone, now we’ll start to connect with the next one.” Others — like the man above — find it harder to disconnect, because the relationship has become entangled.
My predecessor knew for himself that that my parishioner’s issues were NMP.
I’ve tried hard to hold to this, and have mostly succeeded. I do confess to having failed a time or two, because something hit me hard and I reacted emotionally. It’s very easy to do this in real life, and even easier to do it via social media. I have asked forgiveness on at least one occasion, but it would have been much better for all concerned if I had never had occasion to do so.
Everyone is human. Everyone makes mistakes. But not everyone learns from their mistakes. When something is NMP, please don’t try to make it yours all over again.
Back to Holy Saturday…
This is the day when the Church recalls that Christ lay dead in the tomb. It comes between the profound shock of Jesus’ Crucifixion and the astonishing joy of the Resurrection. It is a day of emptiness, of grief, and of waiting. To be sure, looking through the lens of Easter tells us what we await. But let us remember that Jesus’ disciples grieved on that day without knowing with any certainty what the next day would bring. All they knew was that their Master was dead, and they could not see the future.
Leaving a place or a career can often be very much a “Holy Saturday” experience. It is disorienting. It brings grief. It leaves us longing for a lost past and hoping for an unseen future. And as in every grief process, the griever can make wrong decisions while the future reality unfolds.