A journey of saying goodbye : leading a parish from grief to celebration.

Date of Award


Document Type



Drew Theological School

Degree Name

Doctor of Ministry


This project was implemented to aid a congregation and its pastor in the process of getting ready to separate after a positive seven year tenure together. An advisory team created the process by leading congregational meetings which enabled members to engage in dialogue about their grief and move them to celebration. A survey was done before the first meeting and at the end of the final session to aid the team in determining if the project was successful. Specifics questions were designed by the advisory team which allowed members to recall and reflect on their sense of loss and desire to move forward once the pastor was no longer with them. Four congregational meetings were held and led by a different team member to bring diversity and depth to the discussions. The answers were recorded and reviewed by the team following each congregational session. The team and the pastor analyzed the meetings to see if dialogue was taking place, if people were free to speak, if a change in the process was needed and if this method was actually enabling folks to face their loss and move towards the future. The advisory group discovered that the congregational gatherings enabled members and community members to grieve collectively. They were surprised by the intensity of the feelings expressed and believed it set the stage for looking to the future positively. The members also shared ways in which they hoped the church could move forward without the current pastor. The information gained helped the team design the final worship and celebration luncheon. The service infused the many symbols of their life together and drove them to look ahead with optimism. This project successfully highlighted the need for an organized way to acknowledge grief among a congregation whose pastor is leaving. This model is an excellent tool for other congregations to say goodbye to a pastor.