On Leave-Taking and Other Boundaries

Leave-taking is hard. For pastors (rostered leaders) and congregations who have worshiped, served, lived together and loved one another for even a few years, leave-taking, saying good-bye rather than “until we meet again,” feels unnatural. And even when we commit ourselves to cutting ties, the leave-taking is not like flicking a switch. It lasts and lingers for years. And it seems anything can trigger grief and loss. 

While we were at assembly, the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago had commencement. The last class that will know me as their preaching professor graduated. LSTC also recently called a professor of preaching. In a few weeks I will teach for the last time in the Doctor of Ministry in Preaching program where I served as dean. It’s taken two years, and I am finally over. 

After my election, under President James Nieman’s and then Dean Michael Shelley’s excellent leadership, we mapped out an extraordinary leave-taking plan: a written document outlining what I would do until when and what I wouldn’t do after that; an invitation to return to LSTC to preach and preside and take leave; the granting of the title “adjunct professor” and the gift of the chair that professors ordinarily receive when they retire.  We established boundaries and expressed appreciation. All was well.


Then LSTC’s Epistle arrived at our house—photos from commencement, my friend Antje Jackelén was the speaker, and articles on my predecessor, LSTC’s visiting preaching professor, and the difference LSTC’s adjunct professors are making in the church—no mention of me. Cathy felt bad for me, former students expressed their disappointment that I was omitted to me, and I felt unappreciated and sorry for myself. Imagine how former pastors feel when beloved parishioners and friends die and it’s not their place to do the funeral. 

Feelings are not facts. As I said, my leave-taking was extraordinary. The fact is that I am no longer a seminary professor; I surrendered that call to become bishop.  Thankfully, Jim Nieman was my friend before becoming president so I could email and say I was feeling unappreciated. Jim quickly emailed to say he was sorry I was feeling unappreciated, and we both got back to the work to which God has called us. 

I am so thankful to have boundaries to help and protect me and, more important, those I love and serve when I was not at my best and my needs and feelings might get the better of me. Several months into my time as bishop, I was asked to prepare a document offering my guiding principles on the boundaries that help and govern rostered leaders, since much of the work of interpreting those boundaries is the bishop’s direct responsibility. The document is called “Pastoral Expectations” and you can click on the title to read it. 

As I build personal relationships, even friendships, with the people of our synod and grow in the office of bishop to which you have called me, I do so in the awareness that, when this call ends, I will face more leave-taking. I know already that leaving you and this office will be hard. So once again I will rely on the Church and its boundaries to guide me and protect you whom I love and serve as I make the transition to the next phase of the life to which God calls me. 

Yes, I know firsthand that maintaining the correct boundaries can be hard on pastors and rostered leaders. So, please, whether you are a colleague or parishioner, do your best to help us to maintain them!

The Rev. Craig Alan Satterlee, Ph.D., Bishop

`© 2006 Craig A. Satterlee ● North/West Lower Michigan Synod ELCA ● 2900 N. Waverly Rd. ● Lansing MI 48906 ● 517-321-5066