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A Letter from the Senior Associate Minister to Presbytery

Learning How to Leave Well
July 2, 2015

During the eight years of my ministry among the pastors and churches of Pittsburgh Presbytery, I have often reminded pastors of the need to leave their churches “well.”  In Acts 20:32-38, we see an example of the Apostle Paul leaving the church at Ephesus to continue his ministry in Jerusalem.  He says his good byes, hugs them, weeps with them, prays with them, builds up their confidence, and then he leaves.  He asks them to pray for him even as he will be praying for them. He left “well.”

There are times when a pastor leaves under the best of circumstances and everyone holds a celebration goodbye to give thanks for the journey they have all been on.  This is called closure.  It is helpful for the pastor and his or her family, but also for the congregation.  It allows congregants to emotionally close the book on this chapter of their life, frees them to move on, and hopefully attach in a positive way to the new pastor when called.  I encourage congregations to include kids in the celebration as well.

Ahh…but then there are those situations far less than optimal that test us mightily.  Some pastors leave under a cloud of controversy, in the midst of conflict, or because the congregation has tired of him or her and they are ready for new energy and new ideas.  This is painful to the pastor and can emotionally handicap a congregation for years.  When good byes occur without proper closure, with the pastor just disappearing into the night, I have found it very difficult to get the congregation to trust the next pastor, or even the presbytery, thinking certainly something must be amiss that they were not told.

Here is my advice to pastors who are ending one ministry and starting a new one:

Before Sheldon went on his sabbatical we had our good byes.  We shared and reminisced about our time of working together.  I have spent the last number of weeks meeting with staff, writing letters, and focusing on relationships.  I pray I have done this well.  Like the Apostle Paul reminded his congregations, I want to remind all of you I will continue to pray for Pittsburgh Presbytery, its staff, pastors, congregations, and ministries.  I have great confidence God will continue to work in and through this presbytery to make a difference for our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

As this is my last article to all of you in my role as Senior Associate Minister, (I will begin my work at the Board of Pensions on July 13), I want to wish you all the best.  May the Lord bless you and keep you.

In Christ’s joy,

The Rev. Dr. Douglas E. Portz, Senior Associate Minister to Pittsburgh Presbytery

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