Closing the Covenant of the Pastoral Relationship

As I prepared to move to a new pastoral relationship, I wanted a ritual way of bringing the current one to a close. Because, in The United Church of Canada, the pastoral relationship is a three-way covenant between minister, pastoral charge and Presbytery, overseen by God, I felt it important to connect the closing of the covenant with its opening.

This was shared at the end of my last service with the congregation:

Minister:
Something special happened in this place, in the middle of (Liturgical Season and Year). It was then that we began to share in ministry together. A few months later you, me and Presbytery
officially recognized that new beginning, in the eyes of God, through a service of covenant.
Over the last ( ) years and ( ) months we’ve had some times of joy and some times of frustration. We’ve challenged each other, we’ve learned from each other, we’ve done a lot to care for each other… and we’ve worshiped God together. There is nothing that can take away the memories and learning from the relationship we have developed.

However… as the writer of Ecclesiastes reminds us, there is a time for beginnings and a time for endings. I will hold each of you – St. Marys and this congregation, dear in my heart – in friendship and in love.

But, after today, our relationship as Enabling Minister and congregation ends. I move to a new pastoral relationship, with a different congregation who have other difficulties and celebrations. With the support of (supply minister), you will have time to prepare yourselves for a new pastoral relationship with a new minister – someone who has new skills and gifts – and that’s good.

As a denomination, we’re often good at celebrating the beginning of new relationships, but not quite as good at marking their ending. I would like us to take a moment to think about our sorrows and our joys together… and to say goodbye.

(Some silent time)

(Member of Presbytery, newly confirmed member of the congregation, Member of Staff, Chair of Church Council, Chair of Property come forward.)

Minister: (Name), just a few weeks ago, you stood in front of this congregation, remembered your baptism, and decided to take on the role of being an adult in the church. On behalf of the congregation, take this ewer of water. In my time here we have tried to fulfill what this symbol has called us to – the sacrament of baptism and to pastoral care. It is your responsibility as a congregation to continue to live out this call. May God continue to bless you in this ministry.

(Confirmed): On behalf of (Name) United Church, I accept. (Minister’s Name), God bless you on your journey.

Minister: (Name), as the chair of the Church council, you represent a group of people whose responsibility it is not only to ensure the physical upkeep of the church, but also the spiritual health of the people of God gathered here. On behalf of the congregation, take the bread and the cup. In my time here we have tried to fulfill our responsibilities to share the sacrament of communion – a sacrament of community and spiritual nourishment. It is your responsibility as a congregation to continue to help each other be fed. May God continue to bless you in this ministry.
(Chair of Council): On behalf of (Name) United Church, I accept. (Minister’s Name), God bless you on your journey.

Minister: (Name), you are one of the many people in this congregation who have shared the gospel not only in words, not only in music, but also in the action of your life. On behalf of the congregation, take this bible. In my time here we have done what we could to make the words of God accessible to as many people as possible. It is your responsibility as a congregation to keep working to share the love of God and the good news of Christ. May God continue to bless you in this ministry.
(Staff Member): On behalf of (Name) United Church, I accept. (Minster’s Name), God bless you on your journey.

Minister: (Name), you are chair of the Property Committee. Along with many others, you have helped to make sure that we have had a place to worship. On behalf of the congregation, accept the return of the keys of the church. In my time here, we have worked to use this building to the glory of God, as a family and as a community. It is your responsibility as a congregation to keep safe the places we worship – not only these buildings, but also our hearts. May God continue to bless you in this ministry.
(Chair of Property): On behalf of (Name) United Church, I accept. (Minister’s Name), God bless you on your journey.

Minister: (Name), as a member of Presbytery, you represent the body of people who have the responsibility of ensuring the well0being of this and all of our congregations. On behalf of Huron-Perth Presbytery, accept the Rolls of (Name) United Church, as a reminder of Presbytery’s responsibility to this congregation in its past, its present, and its future. May God continue to bless you in this ministry.
(Member of Presbytery): On behalf of Huron-Perth Presbytery, I accept. (Minster’s Name), God bless you on your journey.

Minister: Sisters and Brothers – pray for me… and know that my prayers are with you.

All: Glory to God, whose power working in us,
can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine:
Glory to God from generation to generation
in the Church and in Christ Jesus
for ever and ever. Amen!

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