In days my email from my previous church will be taken down. After almost ten years there will be no more fpc.candie@. The “fpc” is for First Presbyterian Church of Downey, California. I finished this call the end of October 2012 and began a new call at San Clemente Presbyterian Church. For a variety of reasons it has taken almost five months to get to the place to shut the email down. I find myself a little sad about this. I know why. It is not about email. It is about deep relationships and dear people who I had the privilege of serving for almost ten years.
Professional pastoral ethics and just plain good ministry sense requires that when a pastor leaves a church they leave in such a way as to allow a new pastor to enter and begin to build relationships that will become deep and dear. It is clearly the ethical way and clearly good common sense. But that does not make it easy or any less of a loss for those who experience it. Good pastoral boundaries are easy to explain but very difficult to live out. Pastors are human. Pastors have needs. Pastors are invited into sacred and intimate places with people that bind in ways words can never adequately explain. When you have married and buried and baptized, laughed and cried at hospital bedsides and court-related proceeding you are joined with others in ways that can run much deeper than blood. And yet, in the beginning, we are invited because of a professional relationship that was established—called through a process to be a pastor. And at some point, long or short lived, we are called as a pastors to take leave—the professional relationship ends. A new one must begin. The relationships that run so deep must be given time and space to make room for another pastor to enter and thrive. The payroll and services provided end. The advice and counsel ends. The officiating of life events ends. The daily intersecting of lives ends. But the love and the deep connections do not end. Ever. They cannot because they are spiritually rooted and spiritually nurtured, and intended to build an eternal kingdom. It is just difficult navigating the “already but not yet” nature of these relationships that have a temporal beginning and ending, but are eternity bound.
This is my second time navigating these boundaries. The first time was easier because I moved 2000 miles away. This time I am only an hour away. It is more difficult. The Lord knows, I KNOW the principles! I am part of a group in our presbytery that provides oversight and support for these places in ministry. But as good boundary training teaches, boundaries are not always impenetrable brick walls. Sometimes they are more porous and more like bougainvillea bushes. I am grateful for the Presbyterian way of ministry that provides advice and counsel for pastors like me in these places. But I must switch roles from one who advises others to one who receives it. This, too, is not easy. Knowing it and living it are two very different realities.
As this old email shuts down, I am grateful I have a new email. I have a new ministry. I have new opportunities to grow deep and dear relationships in sacred spaces. All these, past and present, are gifts from above. Letting go means days of sadness, days of joy. There is sadness in the loss, but there is also joy in knowing these are friends forever. Just last week two couples from the very first congregation I served visited us here in Southern California. It was sweet reunion for sure. No brick walls. All bougainvillea! As the song by Michael W. Smith says, “Friends are friends forever/ If the Lord’s the Lord of them.”