Last Sunday, First Lutheran Community Church in Port Orchard gathered with me as their interim pastor one last time to give thanks to God and to one another for the blessing of serving together. Good-byes are not easy for many people. I have heard several stories of pastoral departures meeting the equivalent of surgery without anesthesia. A well-executed good bye is good for all souls present, for it recognizes the gracious activity of God in our corporate lives, yet also reminds us of the talents God uniquely gives individuals that make ministry a joyful undertaking.
More importantly in this day and age, a ritual of forgiveness between pastor and congregation enacts an example for living. Forgiveness can be as messy as a goodbye, yet a ritual such as the following "Litany of Farewell," names both the successes and failures, and not glossing over the sin and wrongs of our shared lives. By recognizing sin and proclaiming forgiveness congregations and pastors gain some insight into the fragility of the congregation-pastor relationship and our shared need for God.
The "Litany of Farewell" is not unlike other rituals for departure, but this is one shared by several of my colleagues in interim ministry. Feel free to modify and use it as a way to mark changing corporate relationships in ministry.
A Litany of Farewell
Leader: A church community is constantly changing. Loved ones come to the end of their lives; new lives are born and baptized into the faith community. Individuals and families come and go throughout our life together. It is important for us to recognize and mark well these times of passage, these endings and beginnings. Today we bid farewell and Godspeed to Pastor Joe BW Smith who has served us as Pastor for the Interim for the past 18 months, whose time with us has now drawn to a close.
Pastor: I thank you, the people of First Lutheran Community Church, for the love, kindness, and support you have shown me these past months. I thank you for accepting my leadership and receiving me as pastor in your midst for this time of transition. I recall with joy the many things we have been able to accomplish together, and with sadness the things we were not able to do. I ask your understanding and your forgiveness for the mistakes I have made and for the times I may have let you down.
Congregation: We receive with thankfulness the ministry you have offered us in the time we have shared. We accept that you now leave us to minister elsewhere, trusting that God goes with you on that journey. Your presence among us will not be forgotten. We are grateful for the time you have been with us and ask your forgiveness for our own shortcomings and our sometimes flagging faith.
Pastor: I forgive you your failures, as Christ has forgiven me, and graciously accept your gratitude, trusting that our time together and our parting are pleasing to the Christ we are called to serve.
Leader: Do you, the people of First Lutheran Community Church, now release Pastor Joe from the duties of Pastor for the Interim?
Congregation: We do, with the help of God.
Leader: Do you, Pastor Joe, release First Lutheran Community Church from turning to you and relying on you to serve them as Pastor?
Pastor: I do, with the help of God.
Leader: Do you, Pastor Joe, offer your encouragement for the continued ministry here at First Lutheran Community Church?
Pastor: I do, with the help of God.
Leader: Let us pray.
Congregation: O God of all creation, whose love for all is trustworthy and true, help each of us to trust the future, which rests in your care. During our time together we have experienced laughter and tears, hopes and disappointments. Guide us as we carry these cherished memories with us in new directions until that time when we are completely one with you and with one another. In the name of Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.
Leader: Go now, Pastor Joe, with our blessing, surrounded by our love and led by the promises of God, the presence of Christ Jesus, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.