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statistical and financial facts. “We have between 2,000 and 3,000 congregations where the Sunday attendance is 50 or fewer,” said Kenneth Inskeep, executive for ELCA Research and Evaluation. Te issue is whether such con- gregations can or should continue to support a full-time pastor. Te smaller number of pastors available for regular

calls is not a critical problem, said Barrow of the Greater Milwaukee Synod. “Tere will be a bunch of retire- ments,” he said, “but I would have to temper that fact with the fact of a shrinking church.” Not all retiring pas-

When your pastor retires

1. Prepare. Often a pastor’s retirement is announced early, six months or even a year before it happens. Begin immediately to start “thinking ahead,” as this will help dissipate the sorrow caused by the departure. You might feel anger at the pastor for retiring and “leaving you.” Let that go. This is the natural course of events in life. 2. Give thanks. Thank God for the ministry of your pastor (and remember previous pastors as well). 3. Let it happen, with proper dignity. The kind of farewell will depend upon the pastor and the congrega- tion, but plan a suitable time for doing a ceremonial close to a particular person’s ministry. 4. Remember, they can’t come back. A pastor who leaves a congregation leaves. It’s inappropriate to ask Pastor Schmidt to do your grandson’s baptism because he officiated at your daughter’s wedding and “knows the family so well.” It’s inappropriate to ask the previous pastor to officiate at a funeral of a congregational leader he or she knew well. Such things undermine and com- promise the ministry of the new pastor. It is appropriate to invite previous pastors for major anniversaries of the congregation, such as the 75th or the 100th. 5. Give the new pastor time. Things won’t be the same as they were under the beloved pastor who retired. The new pastor will be significantly younger and the times have changed. Don’t be quick to make comparisons with the pastor who has retired. 6. Keep the previous pastor in your prayers. Birthday cards or cards to recognize the anniversary of their ordination are appropriate. And it is OK to say that the previous pastor is “missed.” But do not do so in language that puts down his or her successor.

Charles Austin 24

tors have to be replaced on a one-to-one basis as some congregations look for an alternative to the full-time pastor who served them for many years. It’s anticipated that many small congregations will

close or merge. If they close, a pastor is no longer needed; if they merge, move or otherwise reorganize their work, the new ministry can provide a more stable platform for future pastors. Ullestad said retirements and other vacancies in small congregations in the Northeastern Iowa Synod have brought about “many conversations, and quite oſten they have revitalized their mission.” Te statistically shrinking church is a reality, Barrow

said, citing a Wisconsin city with 20 Lutheran churches where “20 years ago, most had multiple staff.” Today, he said, many of those churches have less than full-time ordained ministry. Some retirees may serve those smaller congregations,

but, Inskeep said, “there may be a distribution problem.” When they retire, many pastors move to popular retire- ment places like the Carolinas and Florida, he said, “so they will not be available in North Dakota or in some metropolitan areas.” In the Southeastern Synod, Angalet said she is

frequently contacted by active and retired pastors who seek the temperate climate of the Southeast. Te bulge in retirements is also likely to have a ben-

eficial impact on the ability of clergy to move from one call to another and perhaps on the number of pastors available for vacant congregations to interview. It is also more likely that the older pastors will be replaced by those 20 or 30 years younger. ELCA Secretary Boerger says this will improve the

possibilities of healthy calls for seminary graduates and notes that “many of the newer people in the ELCA are younger and might appreciate a younger pastor.” While it’s not quite a “youthquake” with thousands of

Generation X pastors or millennials suddenly flood- ing into ELCA pulpits, soon the majority of men and women in those pulpits will be born aſter 1975. And although their ministry will change, it looks like many of the “old guard,” pastors born during the baby boom decades and earlier, will— because of their commitment to ministry—still be around. 

Author bio: Austin is a retired ELCA pastor and former journal- ist for secular newspapers and church publications.

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