Presbytery of Lackawanna











The pastoral relationship is very important, often deeply personal, and, in some cases, lifesaving to people in a congregation. This relationship develops through study, teaching, preaching, administering the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, weddings, funerals, presence in crises, and praying with and for members of the congregation. With the leadership of a congregation and particularly with the elders, the pastor*works to encourage the people in the worship and service of God, equipping them for their tasks within the church and their mission in the world. In all of these dimensions of the pastoral relationship there are elements of trust, confidence, admiration, affection, fondness, caring, and love.


The ending of the pastoral relationship is often a trying and traumatic experience for both the pastor and the members of a congregation. It always means change for the life of the pastor involved and the congregation. Therefore, in the light of our Book of Order and the best of our traditions, the following guidelines represent what the departing pastor and the congregation will want to do as they face the situation of pastor and congregation saying “Goodbye.”

















*Pastor is used throughout this document for ease of reading. However, “pastor” is meant to include Teaching Elders in interim, installed or contractual relationships, and/or Ruling Elders commissioned to particular service.





The need to say goodbye to a congregation occurs for one of several reasons. A pastor may receive a call to another field of service. A pastor may decide to retire. A pastor may decide to leave the pastoral ministry and enter another area of service. The presbytery may, for cause, take the initiative to dissolve the relationship. This break can be a difficult time for both the pastor and the congregation.


Whatever the cause, it becomes the occasion when pastor and congregation find they must say goodbye.


  1. Saying Goodbye to Accept a Call a Distance Away

When a pastor accepts a call to a ministry a distance from the congregation which she or he is leaving, the opportunity for contact with members of the former congregation is quite limited, often non-existent. However, recent technologies, including social media, provide for frequent contacts in spite of geographical distances. Hence, there frequently arise certain circumstances which pose questions for the departing pastor as to what is appropriate, and what can be most helpful to the congregation and the interim and following pastors. It is always incumbent upon the departing pastor to make sure that parishioners know that her or his relationship with the congregation will change considerably. It is important that parishioners understand that this change of relationship is necessary in order that the congregation be free, in all respects, to make the adjustments necessary for changes of leadership, interim and permanent, without the departing pastor’s influence. (See Section B, “Responsibilities in Saying Goodbye,” below.)


  1. Saying Goodbye But Remaining a Neighbor

When a pastor says goodbye and remains nearby, there are particularly sensitive aspects of

separation which require careful attention on the part of the departing pastor.


The experience of pastors and congregations over the years has led many to believe that when a pastor ends a ministry with a congregation, it is best for the pastor to move out of the community.

However, this is not always possible or advisable. Thus, it is particularly important when a departing pastor remains in the community and in proximity to the former congregation, that he or she, with care and forethought, pay particular attention to what is said below with reference to a departing pastor’s responsibilities to the congregation, individual members of the congregation, and to the interim and installed or contractual pastors (Section B, “Responsibilities in Saying Goodbye”)


The departing pastor should not be a part of the worshiping or fellowship life of the congregation except upon the initiative and invitation of the interim or installed or contractual pastor. If such an invitation is extended, normally, it should not occur until the interim or next pastor has had an opportunity to establish relationships with the congregation.


A retiring pastor who remains in the proximity of the congregation from which he or she has

retired, will need to give careful consideration to the responsibilities that follow below in Section

B, “Responsibilities in Saying Goodbye”.




  1. When One is Elected Pastor Emeritus

When a pastor retires, the congregation may bestow upon him/her the title of Pastor Emeritus at a regularly called congregational meeting. This action shall be taken only after consultation with the Ministry Team of the presbytery concerning the wisdom of this relationship for the peace of the church and, subject to the approval of presbytery, may take effect upon the formal dissolution of the pastoral or associate pastoral relationship or anytime thereafter.


To elect one as pastor or associate pastor emeritus:

  • Is evidence of a long and loving, mutually caring pastoral relationship;
  • Is a congregation’s way of saying to the church-at-large and to the world that they

love this person and are thankful for his or her time with them; and

  • Is a gift to the retired pastor which says something special to him/her.


However, it must be recognized that the pastoral relationship has been dissolved. The

relationship of pastor to people has ended and there is no expectation of the person to be

present with the congregation because of the election. All expectations related to the former

pastor of a congregation apply to a pastor emeritus

(see Section B below).




These guidelines are an effort to deal in “Separation Ethics.” The use of the term “ethics” implies

certain values which are important to consider during this often highly charged experience of the

dissolution of the pastoral relationship. Such values include:

  • Effective leadership;
  • Congregational health and stability;
  • The growth of pastor and members in dealing with opportunities that arise with the

pain, the problems, and the possibilities of separation; and

  • The ability of the session and congregation to move positively and effectively toward

the next phase of their life together.

These values instruct the conduct and responsibilities of both the pastor and the congregation regarding their separation.

The material which follows is addressed to pastor, session, and congregation, the Ministry Team

of the presbytery, and also the pastor’s family, where appropriate. However, the pastor is the one in the professional leadership role and, therefore, the one who has the responsibility for making sure that the separation that occurs is anticipated and carried through with foresight and effectiveness.


  1. Responsibilities of the Departing Pastor

Because of the sensitivity of the pastoral relationship, it is important that the departing pastor, in any dissolution, assume certain responsibilities to the former congregation, to the remaining

staff and personnel of the church, to individual members of that congregation, and to the interim and next installed or contractual pastors.


  1. To the Congregation

When the date has been set for the dissolution of the pastoral relationship, the departing

pastor must take the lead in beginning to prepare the congregation for their separation.

Certain things will need to be communicated clearly to the congregation in order to avoid

confusion on the part of members in the days ahead.


This communication can be accomplished in several ways. A letter could be addressed to the members of the congregation spelling out clearly the matters below which are part of the separation and the time that follows[1]. A sermon might contain references to the approaching separation and speak to these matters. In casual conversation one-on-one or in groups, in public presence, in newsletters, in all contacts with people of the congregation, it is important that these matters be communicated and every effort made to have them understood. These matters are:

  1. That all pastoral and professional relationships and responsibilities of the

pastor with the congregation will end as of the effective date of the


  1. that the pastor will not be involved in any way in the selection process of

either the interim pastor or the next installed or contractual pastor. Neither

will he or she be involved in any way with the selection of any search team

or pastor nominating committee;

  1. that the pastor, after leaving, will not become engaged in conversations including conversations via social media with church members or staff which, in any way, offer opinions or criticism about the life of the congregation or the performance of the interim or any subsequent installed or contractual pastors;
  2. that any desire on the part of members of the congregation for the departing

pastor to participate in congregational life or services should be discussed

not with the departing pastor, but with the interim pastor or subsequent

installed or contractual pastor;

  1. that the departing pastor may participate in a wedding, a funeral, or a

baptism of the congregation, after the date of dissolution, only by invitation

of the interim pastor or installed or contractual pastor, who shall be the

officiant. It is intended that these occasions be intentional and sporadic if at



  1. To Individual Members of the Congregation

It is important that, with particular friends, it be made clear that the pastoral relationship will come to an end. This does not mean that friendships must come to an end. Friendships are priceless and are to be preserved, but there is a special responsibility on the part of the departing pastor to prevent friendships from becoming confused with the pastoral relationship. The pastoral functions of counseling, calling, conducting weddings, funerals, or baptisms are not appropriate. Neither is the rendering of opinions or judgments about the ministry of the former church or its pastor [2]. It is the departing pastor’s responsibility to see that this really happens.


If the former pastor receives a request to return to the congregation for a particular pastoral occasion, it is important for her or him to clearly state that he/she is no longer in a pastoral relationship with those making the request and therefore, must decline the request.


In any social context where the former pastor is with friends or other members of the former

congregation, it is the responsibility of the former pastor to be sure that he or she voices no

criticism or evaluative comments about the new leadership of the congregation.

It is not appropriate for the former pastor to comment, engage through body language or non-

verbal communication or otherwise invite conversation on the “state of the congregation” or to be

involved in any way in the selection of a successor, once she or he has departed.


  1. To the Remaining Staff and Personnel of the Church

The former pastor has responsibility to the remaining staff and personnel of the church at

  1. in the following ways: 1) to prepare them for the separation that will occur; 2) to

encourage them to receive and welcome the interim pastor and next installed or contractual

pastor and be prepared to alter working patterns and relationships as may be needed; and,

  1. to make clear that he or she will not be available for counsel or advice regarding the life and

work of the church.


  1. To the Interim and Subsequent Installed or Contractual Pastors

The former pastor has a responsibility to the interim pastor and to subsequent installed or

contractual pastors to make sure that any requests that come to him/her for services in the former

congregation be redirected by the requesters to the interim pastor or installed or contractual



It is important that, when any request comes to the former pastor, she or he be in touch with

the current pastor to let it be known what contacts have been made with him/her. This

is a courtesy, which is important to be extended to the current pastor. There should be no

pastoral functions of any kind performed by the former pastor without the prior invitation

or request of the current pastor.


Should any community non-church function call the former pastor back into the community

for public appearance of whatever nature, as a courtesy, the former pastor should inform

the current pastor of the fact and the nature of the occasion.


  1. Responsibilities of the Session


  1. To the Departing Pastor

Following the pastor’s decision to request dissolution of the pastoral relationship, the

session can give support and encouragement to the pastor in the implementation of the

decision. This can be done by assisting the pastor in interpreting the meaning of the end

of the pastoral relationship to the congregation and, if need be, to the wider community.


As a caring expression of closure, it is appropriate for the session to arrange for an occasion

when the congregation and pastor may formally say goodbye.



  1. To the Congregation

The session will want to be sensitive to the feeling of loss experienced by members of the congregation while demonstrating through their actions the meaning of the end of the pastoral



Additional session leadership may be needed in the transition period so that worship,

congregational life, and fellowship may continue.


The session can help the members of the congregation by encouraging them to see this time

as an opportunity for growth and change. It can be a time for listening to individuals and groups in

the congregation. It can be a time for examining present life, ministry, and service, and to be

open to new possibilities. It is important that the congregation be prepared for change and for

new pastoral leadership.


With the help of the Ministry Team, the session should interpret the role of the Committee

Ministry of the presbytery during the transition period. This will involve the naming of the session

Moderator which is always done at the discretion of the Ministry Team, the process of

obtaining an interim pastor, and the process of calling an installed pastor or securing a

contractual pastor.


  1. Responsibilities of the Ministry Team


  1. To the Departing Pastor

Upon learning of the pastor’s intention to retire or resign, a liaison of the Committee on

Ministry shall meet with the pastor to discuss these guidelines.


  1. To the Session and Congregation

Committees on Ministry liaison(s) are available to be present at the meeting of the session

when the pastor announces his or her resignation. The meeting shall include informing the

session fully of these guidelines and orienting the session to the process of seeking pastoral

leadership following the departure of the present pastor.


A representative of the Ministry Team may be present at the meeting of the congregation

when the pastor requests concurrence in her or his plans to leave, to inform the congregation of

the process for obtaining subsequent pastoral leadership.


When a congregation plans to elect a retiring pastor as Pastor Emeritus, the material in item 3 on

page 3, concerning the meaning of “Pastor Emeritus,” will be sent to the congregation and

the liaison of the Ministry Team will interpret the statement if that is desired.


  1. To the Interim and Next Installed Pastor

It will be important for the Ministry Team to review these guidelines with the interim

pastor and the next installed or contractual pastor and to be available for counsel should any

difficulties arise regarding relationships with the former pastor.




  1. The Pastor’s Family

In the considerations of the dissolution of the pastoral relationship, a particular concern arises for the

needs of other family members, especially the minister’s spouse. Quite often family members have joined

the church their spouse was serving, have become very involved in congregational programs, invested

great interest and energy in the church’s life and established deep personal relationships with other

church members. The Presbytery has no direct jurisdiction over the non-clergy members of ministers’

families, but the Presbytery urges the spouse, in the context of those relationships, not to do anything

which would undermine the transition necessary for the church and the development of the relationship

between the congregation and a new pastor or interim pastor. Of all the matters above, it is recognized

that this subject is perhaps the most difficult to navigate in a healthy and effective manner, and may place

a real burden upon family members. It may be helpful to remember one of the great touchstones of our heritage, that is, “truth is in order to goodness,” (Book of Order, F-3.0104) and to follow one’s conscience and the best intentions of the heart is the best advice of all.


These guidelines have been prepared in the hope that they will provide support, clarity, and

encouragement to pastors and their families, sessions, and congregations in those situations in

which a pastor and congregation discover that they must say goodbye.







  1. “Code of Ethics for Presbyterian Ministers.” A paper whose source is unknown


  1. “Pastor and Congregation Face Retirement” by R.J. Kirk. From Special Papers and Research: Reports.

The Alban Institute, 4125 Nebraska Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20016.


  1. “Report from the Task Force on Ministerial Ethics, Eastern Oklahoma Presbytery.” Adopted by

presbytery, February 13, 1990.


  1. “Running Through the Thistles.” An Alban Institute publication by Roy M. Oswald.


  1. “Saying Goodbye, A Time of Growth for Congregation and Pastors.” An Alban Institute publication

by Edward A. White.


The following sections/pages may be of particular interest:


Part V… Liturgical Resources for the Closure of the Pastoral Relationship pages 69-76


Part VII…What Are The Ethics of The Relationship After We’ve Said Goodbye? pages 94–107


Part VIII…Conclusion: Learning To Live With Risk and Uncertainty pages 108–111


Appendix… A check List for a Pastor’s Consideration on Leaving a Congregation pages 112-114


  1. The Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area, “Separation Ethics: When Pastor and Congregation Say

Goodbye” 1993


  1. “Covenant Of Closure” Presbytery of Newton 1998




Presbytery of Lackawanna



For the Minister


I have read Lackawanna Presbytery’s “Guidelines for Separation Ethics Regarding Retired Ministers and Ministers Who Are Leaving for Another Position”. I understand these guidelines and agree to abide by them.



___________________________________________________ _________________________________

Minister Date






For the Session


We, the session of ___________________________________________ (church name), have read and discussed Lackawanna Presbytery’s “Guidelines For Separation Ethics Regarding Retired Ministers and Ministers Who Are Leaving for Another Position.” We understand these guidelines and agree to abide by them. We also agree to interpret these guidelines to our congregation.



__________________________________________________ _______________________________

Clerk of Session Date






For the


I/We have shared Lackawanna Presbytery’s “Guidelines For Separation Ethics Regarding Retired Ministers and

Ministers Who Are Leaving for Another Position” with the pastor and session of __________________________________________ (church name). The signing of this Covenant of Closure will be reported to the Ministry Team and recorded in the Committee’s minutes.



__________________________________________________ _______________________________

  1. Member(s) Date



[1] “Leaving the Pastorate: Staying in Town” by Rod Reinecke, in Saying Goodbye, A Time of Growth for Congregations and Pastors, an Alban Institute Publication by Edward A. White.


[2] “My Friend, the Former Pastor” by Joan Mabon, in Saying Goodbye, A Time of Growth for Congregations and Pastors, an Alban Institute Publication by Edward A. White.


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