News from the Executive Presbyter/Stated Clerk
SEPARATION ETHICS POLICY
G-2.0905 says the following in regards to pastors after their departure from serving a congregation in any pastoral capacity:
After the dissolution of the pastoral relationship, former pastors and associate pastors shall not provide their pastoral services to members of their former congregations without the invitation of the moderator of session.
Like most presbyteries, Central Florida Presbytery has a policy which expands on this Constitutional standard. Ours is called “Separation Ethics: When Pastor and Congregation Say Goodbye,” adopted on June 7, 2011. The policy lists expectations and requirements for the departing pastor, session, and committee on ministry as to how to live into the requirement of G-2.0905. Please review this policy, as well as some supporting information from the General Assembly’s policy statement, “Standards of Ethical Conduct.” (Pages 25-27, Sections II.14-II.17.)
If there is one area where concerns under our policy are often reported to me, it is in the area of social media. Our policy addresses the issue of social media as follows, on page 4 of 5: “The above guidelines also apply to the use of any social media.” Since the policy was adopted in 2011, the use of social media has grown even more popular, with Facebo0ok, Twitter, and Instagram leading the way.
Here is one of the fundamental issues about Separation Ethics: any potential issues with the policy goes beyond any relationship between the current and former pastors. Perhaps more important in all of this is how the situation is perceived by people in the congregation, and the conclusions they may draw from what is thought to be a relatively harmless interaction.
Social media can exacerbate potential issues in this area. Suppose someone posts on Facebook about a hospitalization that has just begun. Imagine if, before the current pastor even knows about the concern, a former pastor publicly posts well wishes and prayers. Others viewing this may conclude that the former pastor is simply being a friend. But they may see it as a pastoral action, and may even compare the quick post of the former pastor with the possible lack of or delayed post by the current pastor. There are some gray areas here that are not easy to navigate. What I am attempting to do is illustrate how difficult it is to completely separate oneself from a former place of service, and how much thought and intentionality we need to give to our own actions. Maybe a private message would be better in this scenario?
When I left the three churches I served, on two occasions I moved a significant distance away – 200 and 800 miles – so separation issues were not very likely. But the first time I moved was 50 miles in the same presbytery, to a church where the former pastor moved a mile across town to a validated ministry. Initially, this pastor would accept invitations to participate in weddings and funerals without clearing it with me, and he was the chairperson of the Ministerial Relations Committee! (Old name for Committee on Ministry. Am I becoming an ecclesiastical dinosaur?) I have experienced the impact of failing to live up to the expectations we have been given for ethical conduct.
Our pastors today are under enough stress with responding to the continued pandemic and all of the changes that has brought to the way we have done ministry in the past. Let’s not add any more burdens to them by failing to abide by the expectations of G-2.0905 and our Separation Ethics policy.
The Committee on Ministry recognizes that our policy is dated and needs revision. The committee has committed to doing this during 2021. When the policy has been revised, it will be brought to Presbytery for discussion and approval. If you have comments or concerns about this policy, please submit them through me.
Executive Presbyter / Stated Clerk
Rev. Dr. Dan Williams