Telling the church was a two-step process. First I would have to speak with the staff parish committee. In the United Methodist system the SPC provides the principal support for the pastor. They are to help him in his spiritual life, see that he gets sufficient time away, maintain total confidentiality and make salary recommendations to the church council. They are also asked to appraise the pastor of areas where he is doing well and where he can do better. It is a great system--When it works.
In years past I had dealt with SPCs that had one or more members who only knew how to complain, demand, and deny any support at all. It made things difficult. Thankfully the committee this year was the best I had ever worked with by far. I knew when I went to them they would be looking for a way to be supportive rather than to be destructive.
This made things both easier and more difficult. Why? Well it was easier because I knew they had my best interest and that of the church at heart. It was harder because I didn't want to tell these wonderful people I would be leaving them.
There were tears on both sides at the meeting, but all members understood I needed a break and they were fabulously supportive. We spoke about the replacement process and how the asst. superintendent would be visiting to speak with them about what they were looking for in a new pastor, etc. I answered their questions as well as I could. Nothing about the meeting was truly easy--but considering the subject it couldn't have gone better.
The meeting was supposed to be confidential but I knew it would be no more likely that the secret could be kept than it had been possible for me to tell absolutely no one about my decision. I had to tell others and did. So would members of the committee.
Before word leaked out too far I tried to speak with some members who I feared might be the most upset with my leaving. I wanted to do my best to be certain they would stay and give the new pastor a fair chance. My argument was simple. 1. The Gospel, not the person who delivered it, was the important thing. 2. They had great friends in the church and if they left they would be leaving them, too. 3. Even if they left they would still be dealing with a new pastor somewhere else who would no doubt leave someday as well. 4. They loved our little church and the church loved and needed them.
In the end all agreed to stay at least six months. I could trust that they would be good to their word, and expected that after that long they would love the new pastor as they had loved me--maybe even more. I was able to speak with most folks before the general announcement, but not all.
Then, the next Sunday, I announced to those present who had not yet heard that I would be leaving at the end of June. I wished I had been able to speak with each one before Sunday, but time hadn't allowed. Nearly all were disappointed--but there were a two or three to whom this was great news indeed. I was happy to finally have found a way to please them!
Next: Addressing worries about safety, and continued preparation.