Parson to Person May 2017

“How Strict Are the Rules?”

A number of you have asked me how strict the rules will be for my involvement with OBUUC members and friends when I retire from my ministry with you at the end of December. Well, they are pretty strict. During the interim period (about 2 years), I cannot be involved in church activities (including church services) because that would be a distraction from what the congregation needs to do during that interim time. My husband Craig explained it best when he compared my retirement to his own. (He retired from teaching fifth grade at Wind Point Elementary School after 20 years in the same classroom.) “What would it be like,” he said, “if the new teacher came and I followed him/her around or even just sat in the same classroom – day after day?” The new teacher would probably feel “watched,” and the students would probably be looking back to their old retired teacher to see if he agreed with what was going on. (They might even be waiting to see if he was rolling his eyes over something the new teacher said or did.) This is why I cannot hang around the church after December, or do church weddings, funerals, or child dedications. It’s also why I can’t engage in conversations with OBUUC members or friends about how the church is doing in my absence, or how the choir or Sunday School program or interim minister is doing. I also cannot go to someone’s home for dinner or be available for counseling, etc. Once the settled minister comes (that’s the minister who comes when the interim period is over), I can work out an arrangement with her/him about my part in the church’s life as minister emeritus. But before that time I cannot.

Many ministers who retire in a situation like mine end up moving away from the area in order to help minimize contacts. Although that would seem to be ideal, it’s not possible for me because Craig could not move with me at this time and I wouldn’t want to go alone. Speaking of Craig, some have asked whether the same rules apply to him as my husband. The UUA has told me that, although the rules for a spouse are not quite as strict, it’s still considered best practice if he is not involved in church activities either. (If Craig attended services, for example, it would be natural for people to say, “What did you think of the sermon?” Or “I’ll bet Tony wouldn’t have approached that subject the same way.” Without necessarily intending to, parishioners could use him as a way to indirectly send a message to me.)

For similar reasons, I cannot stay involved in RIC activities (like the prayer vigils I have led for 20 years at homicide sites). If I did, I would appear to be doing so as a representative of OBUUC. And I just can’t do that after December. Things I did in the community as our church representative will have to be off limits. (I can still stay socially and politically involved, of course; it just cannot be in Racine.)

But what if I see one of you in town (since I won’t be moving away from the area)? Well, I don’t have to pretend I didn’t see you, and I don’t have to hide! I can say hello and chat casually, but I cannot talk to you about anything related to OBUUC. (Also, I cannot casually sit down and have dinner with you just because we happened to see each other in a restaurant without intending to. If I did this, I would appear to be playing favorites.)

I know the above rules may seem to be draconian. But I also know that they have been developed out of years of experience in many UUA congregations. (There are churches whose ministers have stayed involved in some way and created big problems for the interim and the eventual settled minister.) Some folks have suggested that, because I have been here so long, perhaps the rules shouldn’t apply. But think about it: If these rules are important for other congregations that have had a long ministry, you can imagine how much more important they might be for a congregation that has had the same minister for over 40 years – a record, I believe, at least in the UUA! (Not to mention that I could lose my ministerial fellowship with the UUA if I were to make myself an exception to the rules.)

I know the next few years won’t necessarily be easy– for the congregation OR for me and Craig. But I know it can be a creative time for all of us. As for myself, I plan to preach at other UU congregations in Wisconsin and Illinois when I can, and perhaps affiliate with a congregation in a nearby city where I can attend occasionally. I may also take a course or two in linguistics or work on a new book using some of my past sermons. Maybe I’ll even take some music courses or write some new songs! But I will certainly look forward to joining you again in a few years – not as your minister then, but as a fellow congregant. Meanwhile, I plan on enjoying the next 8 months with you as your minister – and I hope you will enjoy them with me.

peace and unrest

This entry was posted in Parson to Person. Bookmark the permalink.