By Reverend Carol Rosine
Thomas Lynch begins his book, The Undertaking, with these words, “Every year I bury a couple hundred of my townspeople.” He is the only funeral director in a small Michigan town and shares what it is like to be in relationship with fellow townspeople, knowing that at some point he will be the one to prepare their bodies for burial or cremation. He has the observant eye of the poet and says this about “the reverend clergy who have come to the enlightenment that, better than baptisms or marriages, funerals press the noses of the faithful against the windows of their faith…. I count among the great blessings of my calling that I have known men and women of such bold faith, such powerful witness, that they stand upright between the dead and the living and say, ‘Behold I tell you a mystery…'”
When I was new to the ministry and falling in love with the elders in our congregation, I decided that I would have to leave Franklin before any of them died because I couldn’t imagine “standing upright between the dead & the living” as I officiated at their funerals. And yet I stayed and one by one they died followed by a steady stream of others I have loved. Sometimes I have felt the weight of grief so heavy that I’ve thought I could not bear one more.
Ministry is such a tricky thing. We are among you as religious professionals educated in how to provide pastoral care, deliver intellectually solid but spiritually moving sermons, and understand how committees & boards function and systems operate. We are teachers, preachers, counselors, advisors, scholars, politicians, spiritual leaders, and social activists. As we fill all of these roles, we develop relationships with our parishioners in a way that professionals in other fields don’t. You don’t invite your doctor, attorney, or therapist to your home for dinner in the way you might invite your minister. And so our relationships start getting blurry. Am I your friend or am I just your friendly minister?
Early in my ministry it was easier to keep appropriate boundaries in place. But then life started to happen to me and I found that during my own tough times many of you were ministering to me. Some of you helped me pack up and move from one rental to another and then another and then another, wondering, I know, how I could have accumulated so much stuff. Paula and Jack welcomed me into their home and took care of me for weeks as I recuperated from my first knee replacement. Claire spent the night with me when I returned home after a spinal fusion. Many of you brought meals and provided rides and didn’t turn away when tears started to flow. Those boundaries between minister and parishioner faded away with so many of you.
Now as I get ready to leave you, I know that there is some confusion about what our relationship is going to be as we move forward. I think that you are all aware that I will not be attending worship or any FUSF events or programs for the foreseeable future. Neither will I be available to officiate at weddings or funerals or child dedications. Your new minister needs to find his or her place within the congregation without my hanging around. My footprints are pretty big in our meetinghouse without my physical presence to deal with as well.
It is the socializing after my retirement that’s confusing. I will continue living in Franklin and my daughter, Kathleen, and her family will continue being active at FUSF, so socializing is not as clear-cut as if I were moving cross-country. During the period of transition, as you are working with the Interim Minister and welcoming your new settled minister, it will be best if we not socialize. This doesn’t mean that if you see me at the end of the grocery aisle you have to hide. We can still chat and check in with each other. But invitations to dinners or parties or movies, I will not be accepting until your new ministers are well-established. I need the space to figure out what retirement is going to bring, just as you need the space to grow into your next stage as a congregation. Your new ministers and I will be developing covenants of understanding in which we will be clear about any future role I may have at FUSF.
My last Sunday will be on June 12th and I will then take off for General Assembly in Columbus, Ohio. I will continue to be on call through the month of July, until your new minister is in place. So between now and then, if you’d like to talk (or invite me out for lunch!) please give me a call.
With much love, Carol