When a minister leaves a congregation s/he has been serving, there is always the question of how much contact to have with former parishioners. I know of some ministers who have cut off contact entirely, concerned that they not be perceived by any former parishioner as still being "their minister", out of a collegial obligation to the new minister. I know of others who maintain a few connections with former congregants but are very clear with those folks that this is not a minister-congregant relationship any more and that new boundaries need to be considered.
This is particularly the terrain a fulltime settled minister needs to walk; it is also critical terrain for a minister who is retiring from a congregation and yet remaining in the area. Collegial guidelines make it clear that we must not tread on the toes of the incoming minister, that we must support that new ministry, not weaken it by ambivalent relationships with congregants after we leave.
This is often very hard for congregants to understand and accept. We build such strong connections in the course of a ministry that it is painful to cut them off, to transfer those connections to another person, however deserving. It's also hard for ministers to understand and accept. Those strong connections matter to us too.
It's murkier for parttime, consulting ministers. In leaving Vashon this past spring, I was very clear about my responsibility to the new minister, who had not yet been selected, and people understood and accepted what I was saying. But in the search and selection process, difficulties arose and it was hard not to give advice, hard not to sympathize or opinionize about the process. The question in my mind became "what if they don't find a minister? what is my collegial duty then?" So I listened to the difficulty, referred the committee to the Ministerial Settlement Rep instead of giving advice, and offered support but few opinions.
Over the summer I've had occasion to see members of the Vashon flock on a casual basis and during these times, I have steered as clear as possible of the pitfalls of too much connection. But it's hard! I love them and want the best for them, even though I am not serving them any more. I don't seek them out, but when they call and say "I'm going to be on Whidbey, can we have coffee?" I've said yes. But during that coffee date, I'm aware of the need to weaken that link----kindly, respectfully, but firmly.
It's like the process of letting go of an adult child-------their relationships have to change and mature and we have to let them change. In fact, we have to insist upon it.