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Transitions

As I've mentioned, I'm beginning a new appointment on September 1st. Both here in Oneida, and in Franklin Lakes, NJ, congregations are in a time of transition. This is only my second appointment, and so I don't have a lot of experience with transitioning between congregations, or entering a new appointment, and I have no direct experience of helping the congregation I'm leaving prepare for their own transition.

So far, of course, I've found my transition into Franklin Lakes to be very different from my transition into Oneida. So many factors make that the case, from the pastors I'm following to the transition policies and practices of the conferences, and certainly, because I'm not doing a typical July 1st move this time around. (Franklin Lakes is graciously spending two months without a pastor this summer while I heal from broken-ankle-repair-surgery - later, Oneida will have one month between my departure and my successor's arrival.)

Yesterday, I met with my successor for the first time - and for not the first time. Coming to Oneida as interim pastor is Rev. Carl Johnson, who just finished his term as (my) District Superintendent! So this transition is unusual too because he already knows a lot about St. Paul's from being their District Superintendent for seven years. How strange an experience! What do you tell the pastor following you about the congregation?

I've talked with lots of pastors about this - what do you tell? What do you leave out? What must the pastor coming in know up front, and what is better for her/him to learn when they arrive? Is it "less is more" or just "more is more"? I can see the benefits of both approaches or approaches in between. I believe you can never know a congregation really fully until you know a congregation - through relationship, through time spent working together. But you can get some ideas about a congregation, some clues, some starting points maybe.

I think as a pastor preparing to leave a congregation, I want my successor to know how precious St. Paul's is - how special they are. And I'm lucky, because he already knows that! I know that I was appointed to St. Paul's in part because of their warm reputation. They would be nurturing to a new, inexperienced pastor, my DS knew, and they would let me grow and let me be their pastor at the same time, a neat trick. And I have certainly heard from my predecessor in Franklin Lakes about what a special congregation I will find there. In his conversations with me, that's the underlying tone: "This is a special group of people that I cherish." I guess perhaps that is the best message to pass along through all transition experiences.

What have your transition experiences been like? As a lay person? A pastor? Outgoing? Incoming?

Comments

karen said…
I know the things that were always the most helpful to us (and to those following us) were the names left of the "go-to" people -- who was in the congregation that could typically be counted on to pick up the slack for whatever. "Short a Sunday School teacher? Well, Mrs. So-and-So won't probably volunteer but if asked she'll do anything." Even the folks who are just randomly useful but not necessarily outspoken about it (and may not even realize it themselves) -- the really good pie bakers, handymen, etc.
David said…
Beth,
I have been contemplating this issue for some time. I think I would want to know more about what it was you were trying to do at the appointment I am coming into, so that I would know where the wheels have been greased and where the walls are coming from. Some extended history is also helpful in this regard.
The go-to players is a good plan, though I might do a little larger diagram that includes who the inner circle is, who the gatekeepers are, who the blockers are, where the dispensers are, and who the workers are.
A grasp of what the real programs of the church are (some of which I did not discover until months after I had been here).
Also the important community connections, and a resource guide for the area, that includes shelters, food programs, AA, NA, etc
Peace,
DC
Anonymous said…
As an outgoing pastor, I used the "more is more" approach with the incoming pastor. I had the advantage of remembering relatively freshly all the things I wish I had known going in, so those are the things I tried to share. My appointment was only two years, so it wasn't hard to remember the things that shocked me the most. I also told him how much I cherished the congregation, so that seems standard (although, still special).
gmw said…
One of the best things I did when making a previous move was to ask a couple of pastors in my conference out to lunch with an expressed interest in how they approach a new appointment. They were each very different in personality and approach, but both very good at their approach and fruitful in their ministry. Those two lunches were quite enriching and helped me not only from hearing their stories and their self-reflection and approaches, but also because it helped me release my own imagination in fresher ways, processing through how I wanted to start my new appointment.

Two other things...
1. The old saying, "beware the first person on your doorstep holding the cherry pie" (or lemon squares, brownies...insert tasty homemade dessert here) has some truth to it in my experience. I don't want to be paranoid, just aware.

2. I learned a lot from having breakfast with my lay leader within my first two weeks and just visiting and getting to know one another. At the end of the breakfast, I asked him, "What do you think would be helpful for me to know as I'm getting started here?" That was gold. Fortunately, I knew from previous pastors that this was someone I could ask that question of and rely on his answer and his support.
Anonymous said…
Hi Beth,
I used to live in Sussex County NJ and now am in College Station TX - never know where God will invite! My previous senior pastor and friend (I serve as associate) had a really sad experience that seems worth sharing. When he arrive at the church no one called or greeted him - happenings concerning the church's previous pastor had divided the church and he had not been told the history. He was from a different district and was unaware of anything. He took he cold reception personally, went into a period of depression and a healthy relationship between him and the congregation never developed. Both my friend and the congregation suffered for 6 years. So - keep in mind all of those family system dynamics and don't take much of anything (good or bad) personally for the first few months. There are a few very good books about transitional ministry - feel free to let me know if you would like some titles. Blessings!
gmw said…
I think I know you, Anonymous!

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