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Changes in Relationships

changes in relatioships family image

How will your relationships change when you retire? As a United Methodist pastor, you can expect significant shifts in relationships as you leave your last parish, with your colleagues in the Annual Conference, and in your pastoral identity and role. In this article we focus on relationships other than family, which we discuss in another article.

Saying good-bye as you leave your last appointment may or may not be easy. Among the many kinds of professionals surveyed for our book Shaping a Life of Significance for Retirement*, clergy are unique. While laypersons can look to friends in the congregation where they worship for support and guidance when they retire, clergy must say good-bye to their congregations in order to clear the way for their successor. To some pastors this requirement feels like a double whammy: saying good-bye to their career and to those with whom they have worked and prayed and even played.

Over the years in ministry, you have probably had to say good-bye several times in changing appointments. Take everything you've learned from those experiences and plan to do this farewell in such a way that it satisfies your needs and the congregation's needs. Make a list of the people and the groups most affected by your news, and schedule time to talk. Write out a list of the questions you think people may ask or comments they may make. Then write your responses. What feelings do you anticipate encountering, in others and in yourself? Recognize that grief is work, and give yourself time to grieve. Take a break. Talk with a friend, a spiritual director, your family, a counselor, or a colleague in ministry. Visit a retreat center. The book Praying our Goodbyes** reminds us that our good-byes can help us grow closer to God.

When United Methodist clergy retire, their membership continues in the congregation known as the Annual Conference. This relationship provides continuity that clergy in other denominations do not have. As your membership changes from "Active" to "Retired," important rituals mark the transition. You'll have a chance to write or say something to your Annual Conference; what will you say? How do you anticipate feeling when colleagues congratulate you? What if some ignore you or think you're "copping out"? How will you feel when your name isn't on the list of appointments? What else do you anticipate about this Annual Conference session that may be difficult or, at least, different?

Audio Discussion

Retired pastor Buzz Stevens talks about challenges retired people face, including how to remain positive and maintain friendships (WAV file).

Most of us have a wide variety of feelings about our ministerial colleagues. While some colleagues may be genuine friends, others may be complete strangers. Active ministry doesn't always include time for building peer relationships; we're all busy out in the field somewhere! Over the years, we may have had strained relationships with colleagues due to conference politicking, perceived slights in the appointment process, or personality conflicts. Retirement brings new opportunities for peer relationships with clergy; and sometimes, old grudges give way to reconciliation. Are there some colleagues you'd like to get to know better?

In addition to saying good-bye to your last appointment and changing your status in the Conference, you are also saying good-bye to the pastorate as a full-time reality in your life. The role of a pastor is highly relational. Whether you're an extrovert or an introvert, you've grown accustomed to this role over the years. The pastoral office provides entrée into a complex network of relationships: with leaders, volunteers, the bereaved, those about to marry, those in financial need, and many others. And on Sunday mornings, you are center stage.

Retirement means the loss of this pastoral role and subsequently the loss of access to some of the most intimate aspects of others' lives. Introverts may feel relieved at relinquishing the stress of this role, but they may also recognize that forming friendships apart from it may not be easy. Extroverts may simply miss the whole thing—the quantity and variety of people and life situations that ministry brings. How will you negotiate an entirely new landscape without this identity? How will you initiate and sustain relationships that will satisfy your needs?

The Center for Health recognizes the importance of building and maintaining a strong social network for mental and physical well-being. Here are a few suggestions to consider:

  1. As you anticipate retirement, take time to reconnect with family and friends who may be in other parts of the country. A high school or college buddy, a cousin, a friend who was in your wedding or from seminary—in retirement you may have time for friendships you've had to lay aside during your active ministry. How might you invest time and effort to further strengthen these relationships in retirement? What are some of the things you value most in deep soul friendships?
  2. If you are relocating as you retire, have you thought through the friendship dimension of the move? Does taking on the challenge of building a new network of friends seem like "one more exciting challenge" or the proverbial "bridge too far"?
  3. Hobbies and interests are great ways to meet new people in retirement. Anticipate being proactive in developing relationships. Ask an acquaintance or a couple to join you for a movie or for dinner. How can you foster these new relationships to whatever depth seems mutually desirable?
  4. How will you grieve friends who pass on, and how will you learn to make room for new friends in your life? As we age, these may be the most important, though difficult, life skills.
  5. Reread some of your favorite passages about friendship in scripture. (See Proverbs 17:17 and 18:24; 1 Samuel 20—David and Jonathan; John 15:12-15). Consider what it means to be a friend as well as to seek friendship in another (see Luke 10:27-37).

*Shaping a Life of Significance for Retirement by R. Jack Hansen and Jerry P. Haas (Nashville: Upper Room Books, 2010).

**Praying Our Goodbyes: A Spiritual Companion through Life's Losses and Sorrows by Joyce Rupp (Notre Dame: Ave Maria Press, 2009).

©Jerry P. Haas and R. Jack Hansen, 2012

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