90 Days

Our church recognizes that most relationships do not last forever. We also acknowledge that many reasons can lead to a separation. Thus, this pastoral call agreement can be terminated by either party giving at least 90 days’ written notice to the other, or upon other terms to which we both mutually agree. 

These are some of the last words in my terms of call. They are the same words that covenanted me to my previous call in Maine. In each opportunity for ministry, I promised to give 90 days written notice so that we could do the good work of saying goodbye. At some point, I was told that this is just the way we do things. We give ourselves three long months to share in saying goodbye to each other.

On Thursday, the letter went out to the whole congregation of the United Churches of Olympia giving that written notice. Again, this is the way we do things. We send out a letter so that each person can read those words in the privacy of their own homes before the pastor resigns in worship. I did that this morning. I resigned. I gave my notice that in 90 days, I will end my ministry with this congregation. Their ministry will not end. They are on the right path. They know where they are going. They know what they need to do — but I won’t be their pastor which means that our relationships will change. And this will be hard. I said so this morning because this church has let me love them from the very first day. They welcomed me into their midst so that I can’t quite stop myself from saying “I love you” to someone each and every Sunday.

It was Social Media Sunday today. So I got a
text message after I shared my news with this sad face
because she loves me. And I love her too.

That’s why we need 90 days. We need that much time to say goodbye. We need that much time for me — for both us — to figure out how to end this relationship that in some ways feel like it started. When I ended my last call, I was clear about my boundaries. I knew that keeping in touch would be too hard for me and so I was firm. We would not keep in touch. That has eased with time. The privacy setting on Facebook has changed. They can see my posts now. I even had some surreptitious visit from a few of my former church members a few months ago. I haven’t stopped loving them and I still miss them.

I know that will be true for this community. All of the stuff that drives me crazy on a day-to-day basis will fade and I’ll start to miss these people too. Because I love them. Because that’s what ministry does. It makes you fall in love over and over again. So, I need these 90 days. Whoever came up with this as the way things should be was brilliant. I applaud those sage people, whoever they were. It is good and right that in every termination of a pastoral relationship (at least within the UCC), that we get 90 days to say goodbye. Some say 60 is enough. I disagree. Love takes time to heal — because nothing lasts forever. No one wants to be reminded of this. We all want to think that there is something that is permanent, but nothing is. And we need those 90 days to adjust.

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