As some of you may have heard, I have resigned my position at Florence Congregational (FCC), and I have accepted the interim position at Center Congregational Church in Torrington, Connecticut. My last Sunday at Florence will be Sunday, August 28th, 2022. I know this seems sudden and comes as a shock to many of you, and for that I apologize.
This is not a decision I came to lightly or quickly. Instead, it was made prayerfully and after a great deal of consideration and contemplation. I truly believe that this is God’s chosen path for me and His answer to the prayers I’ve been praying these past months.
While any decision like this is complex, one of my main considerations was my commute to and from Florence. I live, as many of you are aware, in the Litchfield Hills of Connecticut, and have an hour and a half commute one way to Florence. This is extremely taxing, especially early on Sunday mornings. Center Church is in the next town over from where I live, and it is only a ten minute drive from my apartment. It is also in the community where I reside and where my extended family lives.
Florence, however, has been my home for the past three years. Florence has been my family. I will miss you all terribly.
One concern that I have heard over the past few weeks is what my relationship with Florence will be once I leave. I have been invited to come back to Florence, to attend lunches, et cetera, and to remain a part of the community.
However, once a minister leaves her church, she typically does not return or interact with the church for the period of approximately a year. This is done out of love and respect for Florence, and respect for my new ministry at Center Church, Torrington.
I refer below to the National Association (NACCC) Handbook “Congregationalism in Practice,” Section 3.1, “Basic Ethics,” which I think puts it well:
When a Minister Leaves
All pastorates come to an end. The reasons why they end vary, but each ending changes the relationship of the pastor to the congregation. The general rule is that when a pastor leaves, he or she relinquishes all pastoral duties and interests, and leaves the congregation at least for a designated period of time. The primary reason for this is to help the congregation receive and bond with their new minister, whether that person is an interim or a newly called and settled minister. If your former pastor doesn’t return your phone calls, or when contacted gently but firmly redirects you to your current pastor, it is not that she or he doesn’t care for you. Your former pastor cares so much for you that he or she wants you to have the best possible relationship with the new pastor that you can have and not stand in the way of that. The goal of any former pastor should be the unqualified success of the new pastor. The goal of any church should be the same.
I know this will be difficult for many of you, as I call many of you friends. You opened your church and your community to me as much as I offered my friendship to you. Change is rarely easy. The time we still have together this August, however, can be cherished. Our goodbyes can be heartfelt even if sad. Our three years together have been a good three years. We overcame a pandemic and we successfully entered a new chapter in our building’s story. We have laughed together and we have cried together. We have rejoiced and we have mourned. We have prayed and we have taken communion. Florence will always hold a special place in my heart.
Reverend Averill Elizabeth Blackburn