As my May 1 retirement date looms, I want to share some thoughts with you about my 13 years as your Rector, about what I will be doing when I leave Good Shepherd, and about some church protocol that applies to Episcopal clergy when they retire.
First, I want you to know that I am leaving a congregation that is spiritually growing, financially stable and in the hands of capable and committed leaders.
Balancing the congregation’s historic passion for active outreach in the community, Good Shepherd has recently witnessed renewed interest in spiritual formation as evidenced by the strong participation in our recent Lent small group program. This is important because, in order for the congregation to grow in the future, there will need to be ample opportunities for adults, youth and children to continue to grow in their faith and to deepen their spiritual lives.
As many of you know, when I arrived in May 2005, Good Shepherd was struggling financially. The parish had lost close to $100,000 in pledge income and several hundred thousand dollars in pledges to the capital campaign that enabled the church to carry out a major renovation project in 2003-2004. Over the next two years we were able to restore the annual operating budget to previous levels and over the next 13 years we have reduced our mortgage debt from approximately $800,000 to approximately $70,000. This is a huge accomplishment and a testament to the faith and commitment of parishioners.
It’s important, however, to recognize that there will be significant challenges ahead in light of the fact that congregations around the country like Good Shepherd (“main-line,” suburban, program-size congregations of 500-1,000 members) are not growing numerically. Relying on a shrinking number of parishioners to increase their financial giving each year is probably not a sustainable business model for the church. Churches like Good Shepherd will need to do some serious reflection and strategizing about how to address this “new reality.”
VESTRY, STAFF AND LAY LEADERSHIP
I am proud to say that I am leaving Good Shepherd in the hands of a faithful and hard-working group of Vestry, staff and lay leaders. Your Vestry has made tremendous progress over the past several years in shifting their focus from church “maintenance issues” such as budget and building, to more strategic, mission-driven issues, such as leadership development, volunteer training, spiritual formation, and engagement with the community. These areas of focus may not be as “concrete” or as measurable as budgets, attendance numbers, and building maintenance issues, but they are critical to the long-term growth and sustainability of the parish.
Good Shepherd also has a strong core of lay leaders and church staff who manage and coordinate our worship and music ministries, prayer ministries, financial affairs, education programs, youth programs fellowship activities, and outreach efforts. We do have some gaps in leadership, especially in the area of building maintenance, new member ministry and congregational care, and, hopefully, volunteers will step forward to take on leadership of these areas.
PLANS FOR RETIREMENT
When I retire Ann and I intend to stay in Centennial until we have a clearer idea of where God may be calling us to go. As Northwesterners, we may feel a call to return to that area of the country, but have no plans to move right now. When Episcopal clergy retire from or leave a congregation it is normal church protocol that they and their family will no longer part of the congregation that they are leaving. If they remain in the community they may not return to worship in their former congregation until two years after the new priest arrives, so, when we officially leave on May 1, Ann and I will be attending another church in the area.
In addition to not attending Good Shepherd, I will not be able to accept requests from former parishioners to preside at baptisms, weddings, funerals or other milestone events that take place at the church. Ann and I can attend such events in other churches or locations, when invited by former parishioners, but we can’t attend these types of events when they take place at Good Shepherd. I will also not be able to preside at these types of events at other locations.
These protocols are intended to allow the congregation to transition to new leadership and to help retiring clergy to respect the new priest’s work of establishing pastoral relationships with parishioners. Once I retire Ann and I may certainly continue to socialize with former parishioners outside the church, but it’s a good idea that, when we do so, we avoid talking about anything related to Good Shepherd.
Ann and I look forward to seeing as many of you as can attend at the “goodbye” party scheduled for April 7. I also look forward to greeting you personally on April 15 when I will celebrate and preach at Good Shepherd for the last time. Before my retirement date I will be in the office the week of April 16, but on vacation the last week of the month until April 29.
It seems like yesterday when Ann and I drove through a blinding spring snow storm to arrive in Colorado to become your new Rector! Words can’t adequately express my gratitude for the opportunity to lead this wonderful congregation for so many years as it has grown and flourished. Have a joyous Easter and I wish you every blessing as you go forward with new clergy leadership!
Yours in Christ,