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Clergy leave-taking policy

Lord, you have apportioned to your people the manifold gifts of the Spirit:
Grant amid the changes of the world that your Church may abide,
and be strengthened in ministry through continuous outpouring of your gifts;
through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

The Book of Occasional Services 2018, pg. 321


A good beginning depends on a good ending. Your congregation’s ability to call your successor and move forward successfully in ministry with them depends greatly on how well you leave as well as on your ability to let go. Your character and integrity are demonstrated in how you leave a position.

The expectation in The Diocese of West Missouri is that clergypersons (particularly those in charge of congregations) should keep the highest degree of separation possible from the congregation which they are leaving, for at least two years. This period may be extended or abbreviated at the bishop’s discretion. The clergyperson should not attend worship or parish activities during this time at the congregation from which they have departed. Contact with former parishioners should be restrained and at no time are conversations with them regarding the congregation appropriate.  These expectations are for both the clergy person and their spouse/family.

After this period the clergyperson may return to the parish only at the initiative and invitation of the current rector or priest-in-charge.

All clergypersons have a duty to serve the best interests of the parish as well as to follow the pastoral direction of the bishop.

A retiring deacon may be allowed to continue to worship “in the pews” at the parish where they served.  That decision is made on a case-by-case basis in consultation with rector or priest-in-charge, the archdeacon(s), retiring deacon, and bishop.

An Exit Interview is required of all clergypersons in charge of a congregation (rectors, priests-in-charge, etc.). Please contact the Bishop’s Executive Assistant to schedule this interview.  The Exit Interview Document must be completed and returned to the bishop prior to that meeting.

Below are some best practices about an important moment in the life of every ordained person, a moment of celebration, of ending, of beginning, of death, and of resurrection.

Leave‐taking Essentials for Clergy

Leave‐taking Essentials

  • Inform the bishop in writing of your leaving and the date of your last service.
  • Notify the wardens (in person) and, with the wardens, notify the vestry of your decision to leave.
  • Canons require the vestry to give formal consent of your resignation.
  • The canons require the wardens to notify the bishop in writing that the parish is without a priest.
  • With the wardens, send a letter to the congregation announcing that you are ending your pastoral relationship and expressing your gratitude for your mutual ministry.
  • With the vestry, clarify the terms of unused leave or vacation time, plans for continuing contributions into the Church Pension Fund, and arrangements for insurance coverage.
  • If you are retiring, please notify the Church Pension Fund, securing the proper forms, at least six months in advance. The Bishop’s signed approval is required for retirement.
  • Plan a liturgical ending of your pastoral relationship. A rite is included in the Book of Occasional Services (A Service for the Ending of a Pastoral Relationship and Leave-taking from a Congregation found on pg. 319 of the BOS 2018) and it may be adapted to your parish context.
  • Plan an ending with parish organizations and staff.

Communicating Your Decision

  • Assist the wardens with writing an email/letter to the congregation that outlines your plan for leaving and assures them that they will have support and guidance from the bishop and diocesan staff through the transition.
  • Develop an agreement with the vestry and let the congregation know, in writing, that,
  1. you value their friendship;
  2. after you leave, you will no longer be able to function as their priest;
  3. it no longer will be your role to officiate at their baptisms, weddings, and funerals;
  4. you will only come back after a period of time away from the parish, (two years) and then only at the invitation of the rector or priest-in-charge in consultation with the bishop, and then
  5. you will attend as their former pastor.
  • Notify local ecumenical groups or clergy associations that you are leaving and resign from positions you hold in community organizations.

Preparing To Go

  • Schedule an exit interview with the Bishop and Transition Missioner and a mutual review of ministry with the vestry and parish leaders.
  • List all your current responsibilities, assigning a handoff date, and designating a specific person to take up that task.
  • With the wardens, review all leadership positions, clarify roles and responsibilities.
  • Update job descriptions for paid staff.
  • Meet privately with individuals with whom there may have been tension or conflict.
  • Be clear that you will need to hand off to others any baptisms, weddings, funerals you have scheduled for the time after your leave‐taking date.

Organizing For Your Successor

  • Prepare a written and confidential “welcome” document for your successor.
  • Review the parish register to make sure it is an accurate record of your ministry.
  • Review with the wardens and vestry their leadership responsibilities for property, finance, and administration during the transition.
  • Identify those in nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and home bound, noting who expects to be visited and with what regularity.
  • Note significant pastoral concerns such as premarital counseling, pregnancies, people in the discernment process, divorces in process, terminally ill, and the bereaved, remembering to maintain confidentiality of matters that are pastorally sensitive.
  • Note preplanned funeral arrangements and where the information is filed.
  • Prepare a calendar for the upcoming year, including Episcopal visitations, homecoming, patronal feasts, stewardship, and annual meeting.
  • Provide a notebook with instructions on passwords for social media accounts, websites, etc.
  • Update the parish website.
  • Leave clear instructions about your congregation’s participation in community or ecumenical services, as well as their expectations about preaching and hosting future events.
  • Ensure that discretionary funds are in order and that your successor has a regular amount of funds with which to begin their ministry.
  • List any special funds, their purpose, use and signatories, including scholarships and other financial commitments.
  • Prepare a file of audits, parochial reports, annual reports, copies of budgets for three years, and bylaws.
  • Identify the location of the safe and who knows the combination.
  • Identify the location of the bank deposit box and who has keys.
  • Make sure parish lists and service registers are up to date.
  • Preserve historic documents.
  • Clean out personal files. Documents relating to parish ministries (in both paper and electronic form) should be left at the church.
  • Prepare an electronic file of service leaflets for the past three years.
  • Prepare a file of lay reader certificates, lists of current altar guild members, ushers, acolytes, and servers with contact information (phone numbers and e‐mail addresses).
  • Describe unique parish customs for the conduct of worship especially weddings and funerals.
  • Prepare a file of current agreements and contact information for all groups that use the buildings.
  • Note the location of home communion set, chrism, last year’s palms, the nativity set, etc.
  • Take out the trash. With the assistance of the Vestry, remove clutter that accumulated in closets, storage areas, or garages.
  • Create a contact list of parish leadership, including roles and e‐mail addresses.
  • Turn in your keys, clearly tagged.
  • Establish a date certain for moving out of church‐provided housing (if applicable) and agree on conditions of repair and cleanliness.
  • Encourage and emphasize hospitality for welcoming new clergy and their loved ones.
  • Let people say goodbye, thank you, and give you their blessing.
  • Assist wardens in making arrangements for temporary emergency pastoral coverage for the time immediately following your leaving.
  • Don’t leave anything for the next priest. If it needs to be done, do it. Too many arriving clergy are sunk by things left undone.

Help Your Congregation Have a Strong Relationship with Their Next Clergyperson

  • Arrange for change of address and mail forwarding.
  • After your last day, do not return to the office to check for mail, e‐mail, or phone messages.
  • In all cases, the responsibility belongs to clergy leaving to make clear that the pastoral relationship has ended.
  • Never be involved with the search process including giving names or offering opinions about candidates.
  • Avoid getting triangulated with members of the congregation and your successor.
  • Be clear that it is not appropriate for you to discuss any parish business after you leave.
  • Make plans to worship with another congregation.
  • If you continue to live in the community, do all in your power to allow the next clergyperson to minister as if you did not live there.
  • Make plans to worship at another church.
  • In the absence of a rector or interim pastor, the wardens are canonically responsible for the worship, finance, property, and administration of the parish.
  • Remember, you have no official or canonical role in the parish you leave and your priestly, pastoral, and administrative functions there end on the effective date of your retirement or resignation.
  • Be clear that your spouse/family will also be leaving and will no longer be involved in the life of the congregation.
  • Remove yourself from all pastoral conversations with former parishioners via social media or in any other way.
  • When you are aware that a boundary is unclear, contact the Bishop for advice.

Adapted by staff of The Diocese of West Missouri from work done by numerous Diocesan Transition Ministers, particularly the Rev. Canon Thomas R. Orso of New York.

The Rector/Priest-in-Charge’s Exit Interview

Please complete this document prior to your Exit Interview with the Bishop and return it to the Bishop’s Office.

The purpose the exit interview is to provide information about community life, policies, ministry and other matters regarding the parish as a rector/priest-in-charge takes their leave. The interview is scheduled through the Bishop’s Office

Suggested Questions:

Parish Life

Please provide the current annual report, a copy of the budget and a Sunday bulletin for the exit interview.

  •  Describe the five greatest strengths of the parish.
  •  Describe the five greatest/most urgent concerns or weaknesses.
  • What, if anything, needs immediate attention or special support?
  • What was the last major decision of the leadership? List all who were involved and how consensus was reached.
  • How would you describe the spiritual health of the congregation?
  •  How is the parish participating in God’s mission of restoration and reconciliation? (Describe how the parish relates directly to the community in which is it located.)
  • How would you describe the financial condition of the parish?
  • What do you fear might be lost, or may lose momentum, during the transition?
  • What conflict or “past history” would be helpful for the Bishop and Transition Missioner to know about?

Parish Policy

Please provide written policies or a policy manual, if available, for the exit interview.

  • Describe policies for the use of buildings and grounds.
  • Describe policies for weddings, funerals and baptisms.
  • Describe the liturgical practices of the congregation. Are there any peculiarities or strong characteristics that must be known/respected as we move forward through the transition?

Staff, Volunteers, Lay Ministers and Lay Leaders

Please provide any personnel policies and job descriptions for the exit interview.

  • Name all paid staff members. Describe their duties and your relationship to them. Are they reliable and mature in their faith and practice?
  • Name all key lay ministers and/or lay leaders. Describe their duties and your relationship to them. Are they reliable and mature in their faith and practice?
  • Name all key volunteers. Describe their duties and your relationship to them. Are they reliable and mature in their faith and practice?

Pastoral Needs

A parish directory annotated according to members’ pastoral needs (or alternatively, a list of parishioner names, addresses, phone numbers and needs in writing) is a useful supplement to the exit interview. Consider including a recent pictorial directory, if available.

  • Name any particular pastoral routines, prayers, ministries in the parish (include helpful details: date/time/place, etc.).
  • Do you hold services in community nursing homes? If so, which ones?
  • Who are the sick and shut-in?
  • Who will need pastoral attention during the first few weeks of the interim period?
  • Are there other members of the congregation who will need special attention?

Additional Information

What other information is critical to convey to help the leadership and congregation thrive in the transition ahead?

  • Name the key components to what has served your ministry well over the course of your time as rector.
  • Name one or two things that you would have liked to accomplish but could not.
  • What would your successor need in place to help him/her accomplish this goal?
  • If you were in conversation at this moment with the next rector, what advice or encouragement would you offer that is particular to your life, ministry, the mission of God here in this culture and context?
  • Anything else.
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