Three years ago, our associate pastor left to take another call. Our church immediately scheduled a farewell dinner. I assumed the students who she’d worked closely with during her tenure at our congregation would attend. While some did, most didn’t. But by then it was too late to help them say good-bye, something that was difficult for them.
As soon as our senior pastor announced he, too, had taken another call I flashed back to that experience. This time, I realized that part of my role as a staff member was to help our pastor and students say good-bye to one another.
Our senior pastor has served our congregation for 15 years. For all but our oldest high school students, he’s been their pastor their entire lives. He baptized most of them. He confirmed many of them. He’s walked with their families through difficult times. As a result, I knew teens needed to say good-bye to him, outside our congregation’s formal farewell, in a way that was developmentally appropriate.
So we scheduled a farewell party for our senior pastor, confirmands (our junior high youth ministry), and our high school ministry. Our student leaders planned it, ensuring it was age-appropriate – not too sad, but not too silly either.
We played games – a classic, semi-messy youth group game but also some games specific to our senior pastor. We blew up pictures of him wearing his clerical collar and played “Pin the clerical collar on the Pastor”. Both our junior high and high school students played a version of the Newlywed game designed to help them reflect on their time together, while staying light-hearted and fun. Indeed, throughout the first part of the night, there was much laughter.
Then our student leaders each spoke. They shared a memory of our pastor along with something they’d learned from him. Then they presented him with gifts they’d chosen based on things they knew about him: Custom guitar picks featuring a picture of him playing the guitar on one of our winter retreats; A wooden fountain pen (He’s a little nuts about them); and a handmade leather journal (He’s a writer).
One of the things our teens associate most with our senior pastor is his love of music. So our student leaders also requested our pastor lead us in song during our celebration. That is, after all, what we do in the Christian faith: We sing to worship God in times of celebration and in times of sorrow.