Thursday, December 14, 2006

When Members Leave...

When small churches lose members, it shrieks. I suppose in very large churches, having a few members move away or leave for other reasons isn't very noticeable. In my congregation, we know when you are in worship and when you aren't.

I'm expecting a letter from a family who joined during my tenure at Little Church. I'm very fond of them and have enjoyed their involvement with the congregation.

The letter will tell me that they don't want to be Presbyterian anymore. Raised as Baptists, they are returning to the S.B.C.

I called as soon as I heard to tell them of my distress about their departure, to thank them for their lively participation in our church family and then the Big Whammy. I asked if I had offended them in any way to prompt this decision to leave.

We had a warm chat recalling happy memories of their time with us. They assured me that I had not offended them and that, "if I had, they forgave me." I put that comment in quotes because it struck me when I heard it.

I'm not sure we pastors ever get a direct answer as to why people leave. All sorts of excuses may be offered or the departing members may point to one incident which may or may not have prompted their leave-taking.

Because of the publicity we Presbyies receive, I am sensitive. Perhaps I'm too sensitive.

Whatever their reason, I will miss them. They weren't perfect church members. We aren't a perfect church.

We won't ever be perfect this side of heaven.

I expect their departure will make it around town faster than a bullet. Maybe I'm the last to know about their plans. I'll keep my head up and listen with my best ears and maybe, I'll find out the real reason.

But, does it matter? When people decide to leave a congregation, wish them well. Assure them that if they ever need you to please call. If you can, thank them for their participation. Continue to pray for them and let them go.

Having said this, let me make clear that I've had enough losses, of all kinds in the past 16 months, to feel rather stung tonight. Stung by one more loss.

St. Casserole


cheesehead said...

((((St Casserole))))

You will never lose me.

Sue said...

I heart you St. C.


Stacey said...

Ow. It does hurt, even if you know it's not about you. (((hugs))) to you, friend.

Kathryn said...

Ouch...that's so hard, and as you say, as part of a series of losses, specially so. When I was ordained and our family left our old village, we took one fifth of the congregation with us (ie, the normal Sunday attendance was 25...)- the guilt of that is still with me, and I know the impact was felt, even as people rejoiced at the reason for our departure. But when you don't really know why someone has gone,- that's miserable.
Hugs and loves xx

Princess of Everything (and then some) said...

I am so sorry that you have been stung again!

{{{St. Cass}}}

Songbird said...

It's frustrating, but sometimes we will never know. I've said more times than I want to count, when asked about why someone has left, "I don't know, but let's just wish them well on the journey. The door is always open if they want to come back." I wish it felt like enough. (((st. c)))

Listing Straight said...

I'm glad you had a place to share this and am sorry for this loss--

PPB said...

I'm sorry.

Anonymous said...

(((St. C)))

You are such a GOOD pastor.

NotShyChiRev said...

St. C. I'm so sorry you are having to deal with this.

In many ways, I can feel something akin to your pain.
In the next 6 months, we'll lose two members...out of 48.
And one is leaving at least in part because of the direction he sees the church going on issues of justice and mission, though that's not what he told me. I got the "real" story from another couple of members with whom he was more candid.

Blessings on you and your congregation.

Rodger Sellers said...

Isn't it hard, to keep on "blessing" in situations like this? And as much as we try to tell ourselves that it's not our fault, don't we internalize that too much? (I'm speaking of me here more than anyone else.)

Let 'em go with God's blessing... have a (large) glass of wine, then look to the next adventure on the journey! (We're keeping all you guys in our prayers -- you've been doing ministry the "hard way" for WAY too long!

Grace and Peace,


Anonymous said...

After the feeding of the 10,000 and the sermon was over and the crowd was gone.... and the story moved on....Jesus looks at his disciples and asks are you leaving too? Our church is small, Our losses have stung this year too, we feel your pain. We'll be in prayer.

more cows than people said...

thinking of you and your flock with love.

i just found a letter i wrote to a young couple who left us last fall; every family or individual who has left has been painful, but this was especially painful. i was moved at the blessing and grace in the letter i sent. how do we do it over and over again? by the grace of God alone.