Leaving is hard work. For me, it contains myriad feelings as memories stream through consciousness. Feelings of gratitude for having had the privilege of being present at im-portant turning points. Feelings of disappointment for those times when we were not at our best in our relationships with one another. Feelings of hope for witnessing the tre-mendous leadership of the vestry, staff, and ministry leaders with whom I have had the privilege of serving.
When a priest or ministry leader leaves a parish, all of these feelings accompany us in transition and leave-taking. While these experiences may surprise us, they are normal. We find ourselves wrestling with the desire to freeze time and stay in an elusive moment of stability and peace or, conversely, with the desire to quickly move past the leave-taking or avoid it altogether because it’s painful.
With all of the layers of feelings, with all of the hopes and regrets and thanksgivings and disappointments, we still must face the moment when a priest or ministry leader leaves the parish. As we do, we must accept and embrace some common expectations about what leaving means. My relationship with this parish must change as I leave—just as Fa-ther Burl’s relationship and Hal Pysher’s relationship changed upon their departure.
When a priest leaves a parish, a priest leaves a parish. As clergy and lay associates, Hal, Father Burl, and I are called to devote ourselves to new places of life and ministry, and you are called to continue to delight in the ministries of Mother Margaret and the Lay Associates, and to receive the ministry of new clergy in the coming months. This means that we cannot return to Bethesda to perform baptisms, weddings, or funerals. We can-not return to offer the invocation or benediction at events. We will not intervene in, nor will we even discuss, life at Bethesda. We cannot provide pastoral counsel or support, as that will be the role of Mother Margaret, Father Bob, and other clergy who are present here.
Though we are leaving, we will not cease to love you and to care about you. We will weep with you or celebrate with you at those turning-point moments, but we will do so quietly and at a distance. While our presence here will cease, the bonds of affection forged by the Spirit are deep and will not go away.
We ask for your understanding as we leave and for your strong commitment to Bethesda and your ordained and lay leaders. The most generous way you could show your grati-tude to us is to let us go with your blessing as you embrace and support the continued ministry of this place.
Know that you will always hold a profound and special place in our hearts for all that God has done within and through us over these years together.
With all love and gratitude,