There is a conversation going on at the RevGals FB page about when “Beloved Former Pastors” undermine their successors. It can get pretty ugly, and I guess a person should err on the side I describe below if one is going to err, but I hope there is a way to leave graciously and still have good boundaries because being “deleted” doesn’t feel very good.
When our associate pastor left, he did all the “right” boundary things and blogged about how boundary conscious he was being, and got praised by denominational muckety-mucks, and it felt pretty lousy to be told in a form letter we would be “deleted as his friend” and later see on his blog it was because “I know best” and “they wouldn’t understand.” I’m pretty savvy. I was on Session. If he had once said, “this is my plan, how can we help the people in the congregation understand what I am doing and why I am doing it” (or even–God forbid–“can you help me figure out the best way to do this in this new world of social media?”), it might not have felt quite so harsh. I think he did the right thing more or less (universal Facebook was pretty new, someone had to be figuring out how to handle it), but I also think he carried it out poorly and it hurt my feelings personally and my trust with leadership in the PC(USA). That this was being held up as a model seemed problematic and made me wonder about the muckety-mucks.
It also made me suddenly want to quit having anything more than a surface relationship with the pastor with whom I was much closer. I had only been Presbyterian a couple years, and was still learning what it meant. Was she going to “delete” me when she left? Was that how it worked when the pastor wasn’t even a member of the congregation? She and I had a long conversation about it, and about what would or would not be appropriate “some day.” (Much as Sharon says in her blog post). As I have begun to work on staff at the church, we continue to work to keep healthy boundaries even as we balance complicated friendship/collegiality/supervisory/pastoral relationships.