Reflections on Life and Ministry in Retirement
David Copley, Ian Johnson, George Lovell, and Charles New
This paper is an analytical reflection on aspects of the life and ministry of four presbyters in retirement in the Methodist Church. Much of our experience in retirement, which totals some forty years, has been creative and deeply satisfying to our great joy; some aspects however have been disturbing and even distressing. Over quite a number of years we have met to discuss our good and bad personal and work experiences in periodic one day co-consultancy sessions which have been rewarding and productive experiences of rich Christian collegial and personal friendship.*
Context and Formation
In writing this paper we revisited our core convictions and experienced some dissonance with aspects of the contemporary life of the Methodist Church. Our formation as ministers, and what we are as supernumeraries, reflects a Methodism in which the sense of all members being “in Connexion” was practiced in inclusive collegiality and collaboration through accessible democratic structures linking the local church with the conference and vice versa. The richness of connexionalism remains important to us because it facilitates all-round participation in the Body of Christ. Our perception of the contemporary Church is that it reflects a good deal of the secular culture in which we now find ourselves – a culture in which individualism and choice seem to be promoted and preferred. In the early stages of our ministries we were counter-cultural in relation to things such as authoritarianism and exclusiveness. Now in our retirement, in these and other ways, we find ourselves counter-cultural in the current context! Writing this paper has helped us to explore our convictions and their current implications creatively rather than as grumpy old men extolling the past and bemoaning the present.
The paper evolved from attempts to get our thoughts and ideas about our experiences of living, worshipping and working in the Methodist Church in retirement on paper as a means of clarification and an aid to further personal reflection and discussion. We know we are not alone in discussing this topic and it is the emerging debate in the Connexion about ministry in retirement that led us to write up our findings in order to share our experience more widely and particularly to:
·get feedback and enter into a wider exchange of ideas;
·encourage and help others in retirement to work at things of concern to them;
·provide information to those with responsibilities for the deployment and pastoral care of supernumeraries;
·inform and promote creative dialogue throughout the Church at all levels about ministry in retirement.
The paper is in four parts:
Part One examines ministry in appointments and in retirement in relation to:
- key characteristics of these two domains of ministry;
- ‘abilities’ and approaches which we find enable us to minister in retirement;
- how these abilities variously continue, develop and diminish in retirement and what is involved in deploying them.
Part Two describes our repositioning for ministry in retirement and discusses:
- ongoing formation in retirement;
- self deployment and reviewing it;
- controlled emotional involvement;
-circumspect deployment and participation;
-confused contextual interaction between those in active ministry and in retirement;
-receding processes of relevant experience.
Part Three presents our personal theological reflections about our ministry in retirement.
Part Four - Conclusions and Recommendations
We outline some implications for the Church and also for individual supernumeraries and invite all those with responsibilities for their deployment and pastoral care to engage in dialogue about ministry in retirement in the contemporary context.
Some questions to be addressed might include:
• How are ministers and their ministries in retirement perceived by themselves and by the church?
• What are the expectations of the church and of its ministers?
• How to better facilitate continuing vocational discernment in retirement by supernumeraries and
• How to make best use of the engagement of ministers in retirement in the life, work and ministry of
• How can the church exercise more effective pastoral care of her ministers in retirement, given the demographic trends and consequent increased pastoral demands?
*There is a description of the early stages of our co-consultancy in ‘Take Three Presbyters...The Role of The Co-Consultancy’ by David Copley, George Lovell and Charles New in the Epworth Review, July 2000, volume 27 Number 3 which can be accessed online at http://www.preacher development.uk7.net
Our primary focus is on ministerial life and work; we do not discuss other important aspects of our Christian lives. Nonetheless, throughout we are concerned to position ourselves vocationally so that there is a creative synergy between that aspect of our lives and other elements such as leisure, family time, hobbies necessary to holistic life and the opportunity to develop our personal abilities and interests.
What follows is an attempt to share what we are discovering in the belief that it will helpall those in circuits and districts carrying responsibility for the pastoral care and the placeof supernumeraries in the continuing life of the Church.
EXPLORATIONS INTO MINISTRY IN APPOINTMENTS AND RETIREMENT
Understanding the nature of vocational ministry after official retirement and how it
differs from and relates to that which precedes it, is a prerequisite to approaching life as
During our diverse experience as supernumeraries we have engaged in the life and work
of suburban, town and rural Methodist and Anglican churches ranging from large to very
small congregations. We have facilitated church and circuit reviews, led preacher
development programmes, acted as consultants to a wide range of people and projects
and shared in designing and staffing in-service ecumenical postgraduate and other
courses. We have also participated in debates about national developments in the
We have explored the frustration and anger experienced in common with other
supernumeraries with whom we have spoken. Retirement of its very nature means
being somewhat distanced from the activities in which we have previously shared and by
which we helped to shape policy and direction. So it is not surprising that there are times
when we experience:
·difficulties(which vary from person to person) in finding satisfying outlets
for our continuing vocational drive;
·deep concern about some developments in church and society;
·frustrationat our inability to make contributions we still feel capable of
·being out of tune with some aspects of the worshipping life of the church;
·lack of clarity about our status as supernumeraries.
Much of this results from and is exacerbated by the radical changes in the length, nature
and conditions of retirement in contemporary society and the ability to remain active for
Essentially the discussions have been set within the context of the enormous privilege of
continuing to pursue our ministerial vocations and how to respond creatively, rather than
negatively, to what we experience as constructive and the worrying developments in the
church and world at large and how we can handle our frustrations and emotional
stresses. Our discussions have been about repositioning ourselves in contemporary
church life. This led us to examine the nature of ministry in retirement and to identify
basic principles and guidelines which might help us to take our place in the life, work and
worship of the church, pursue our vocations in and beyond the Church and handle our
emotional dissonance more creatively
a supernumerary creatively and with equanimity. We teased out its nature by comparing
and contrasting ministry before and after retirement.
Terminology for ministry before and after official retirement
We had to find unambiguous ways of referring to ministry before and after retirement.
Eventually we settled for ministry in circuit/connexional appointments, ministry in
other/sector appointments and ministry in retirement, in each of which we are in ‘Full
Connexion’ with the Methodist Conference.
Some Characteristics of Ministry in Retirement
Key issues which crucially impact upon the supernumerary are: ageing; health issues for
us or our partner; bereavement; the ability to perform tasks which fluctuates and
inevitably declines with the years. Attitudes to retirement fall into a wide spectrum, from
those who feel they owe the church nothing and will devote their retirement to family,
hobbies and interests to those who believe retirement offers them new opportunities for
study, discipleship and ministry and wish to contribute as much as possible. What follows
concerns primarily those who fall towards the latter end of the spectrum and wish in one
way or another to continue to fulfil their vocation into retirement.
Key contextual and affective characteristics
All of us have been circuit ministers, three of us have been superintendents, one of us
had a connexional post and one had been a minister in other appointments working
nationally and ecumenically. Distinguishing between the natures of ministry in these two
distinctive phases of our vocational lives enabled us to identify factors that helped or
hindered in these two domains. Relevant factors are tabulated in Appendix 1 in order to
highlight and contrast them at the risk of inferring that they are tidier and more definitive
than they actually are. Some similarities and differences are obvious. Others are subtle
and, by definition, more likely to be problematic if not recognised.
Affective engagement with ministry and context in retirement
We took a similar approach to exploring the helpful and unhelpful ways in which we are
affected by our ministry both before and during retirement. These can be found in
Appendix 2 and indicate what makes for better rational, affective, purposeful and
creative approaches to ministry in retirement.
Abilities and approaches which continue to enable us to minister in retirement
Appendices 1 and 2 outline settings in which we minister in appointments and in
retirement and different ways of relating to our past and present ministries. Thinking
through these we found ourselves considering how does our ability to minister in
retirement compare with our ability to do so before retirement? What remains and
precisely what has changed? Our discussions revolved around five topics that form a
cluster of key attributes or characteristics fundamental to our ability to minister before
and after retirement. In our discussions we tried to tease out the subtle changes we had
experienced in retirement.
1. Vocational call to ministry and ordination
For each of us our call to ministry and its endorsement by the church through our
ordination is fundamental to our whole ministry: it is the permanent, precious and
continuing core which mandates, motivates, drives and empowers us and our ministry; it
is key to who we are and where we stand in church and society; and continues to call us
to ministry. The significance and content of our call and vocation unfolds as our ministry
evolves. However, we do realise that it is possible to lose a sense of call or for it to
weaken or lose its impetus, not least if we are repeatedly reacting negatively to our
experience of church.
2. Personality and selfhood
‘Personality and selfhood’ refers to our spirituality, our core values and moral principles,
our approach to the way we relate to people, our charisma. It gradually forms our
character, presence and influence. It is a continuing core to our lives and ministries with
the potential to develop and mature with experience and age to the end of our lives.
3. Body of Knowledge
Our body of knowledge is the accumulated understanding, knowledge, enlightenment,
scholarship, insights and hopefully wisdom upon which we draw in ministry. It can
increase and mature throughout our lives but ageing invariably and inevitably makes
access to aspects of it more difficult and tenuous!
‘Powers’ refers to our energy, emotional intelligence, abilities to concentrate, apply
ourselves and learn, memory, health, reliability of physical and emotional resources and
professional ministerial ability. Aspects of these powers reduce inexorably with ageing
and become less reliable resources for ministry.
5. Approach and attitude
How we use these abilities is largely determined by the approach to ministry and to
working with people in church and community. The approach that has informed the ways
in which we have worked is a deep commitment to helping people, individuals and
groups, to think profoundly for themselves, to own their conclusions and to work out the
implications through creative action. Doing this involves, inter-alia, working with rather
than for people through a non-directive approach to human and spiritual development in
religious and secular organisations. This approach profoundly affects: our attitude to
people; how we see ourselves in relation to them and to our status and standing as
ordained ministers; how we use our abilities to facilitate and empower others, churches
and organisations to promote well-being and the common good.
Contributing our abilities in retirement
It is our experience that in some situations and relationships in the church we are able to
draw freely upon our various abilities and make contributions. This is so, for instance, in
pastoral ministry, preaching, lecturing, in carrying out commissions of one kind or
another and in some committee work. This is deeply satisfying and rewarding. However
in other situations and relationships we find ourselves de-skilled and unable to make
comparable contributions. This can be distressing and frustrating. Clearly we cannot
expect to make the same kind of contributions as our colleagues in Circuit/Connexional
appointments; our status and standing is different from theirs. The fact that prior to
retirement we were able to can sometimes compound the difficulties!
And so we looked for insights and understandings which would help us make our
contributions more effectively alongside that of others and to build up all round good
personal and working relationships as we do so. Were there, for example, nuances in our
status and standing as ministers in retirement that, if unrecognised, might hinder us in
pursuing our vocations as effectively as we would like.
We use the word “status” because it is both a common and technical term but not
without some considerable hesitation because of its associations with hierarchical
positioning, misuse of power and people assuming attitudes of superiority.
We identified two basic forms; that which is conferred by, in our case, the Methodist
Church (ascribed), and that which we accrue by virtue of what we have done, and how
we did it, during our ministry (achieved).
We describe these two aspects of status in Appendix 3 but as Christian ministers, neither
is meant to be personal adornments to be displayed and vaunted. They are attributes of
ministry to be humbly valued and treasured and to be used purposefully for ministry and
for the human and spiritual well-being and development of other people and their
communities, not simply our own.
Both forms of status are latent attributes which come to life when deployed without
necessarily being named. They are experienced objectively and subjectively by those who
have them and those with and to whom they minister and work; their deployment can
generate good, indifferent or bad working relationships.
Reflecting on this we became aware that the loss in retirement of the ascribed status that
goes with ministry in appointments was not necessarily the key factor in the difficulties
we may face. In reality, we do not lose all forms of status and authority in retirement. The
status inherent in our ordination continues when for instance we are appointed to take
services of worship and preach, engage in project work, act as consultants, lead and
lecture on courses. Similarly the status that comes with experience and competence
continues to be operative throughout. Both forms of status come into play
intermittently: they are not static and permanent but can continue to grow and mature
throughout retirement. However, the operational effectiveness of these two forms of
status varies; the interaction between them is complex and somewhat mercurial; at
worst it can be dysfunctional, destructive and painful; at best it is wonderfully creative.
For our part, we need to be aware of these characteristics, to assess more perceptively
the appropriate status we need when making our interventions. Also, there seems to be a
point in time when both our accrued status and the authority that comes with it become
more closely associated with past achievements. At that point they become historical
rather than present. We need to watch for this. Part Two is about the practical
implications we have discerned from this and other reflective analyses.
Relationships between the abilities
The five abilities mentioned earlier are interrelated in various and complex ways. Each is
derived from and affected by others. They are the factors that influence how we exercise
our calling before God which in turn both forms and is formed by what we do and how
we do it. They are present uniquely in each one of us and are subject to change (variously
welcomed and unwelcomed, self-induced and imposed) and decay. Some are more
permanent, sustainable and consistent than others. To complicate things further, each of
them is in fact a subsystem with many parts.
The nature and complexity of the relationship between our abilities are difficult to
conceptualise and consequently to describe and model. Getting them to work together
harmoniously and creatively is of the essence of human interaction. In keeping with
others in their particular engagements, throughout our ministry we have encountered
this phenomenon in relation to many situations. These abilities are sometimes
dormant/latent/at restand sometimes active/engaged. Engagement takes many forms:
analysing, evaluating, reflecting on one’s own or with others; writing; preparing and
planning on one’s own or with others; engaging with people individually, in groups,
audiences and congregations. And our ability to bring into play the relevant and
appropriate characteristics of these abilities is an astonishing phenomenon, at best,
economic and elegant in its execution.
Somehow we are able to select from the vast number of characteristics, coordinate and
apply them into a subsystem appropriate to the task and put them into operation. It
seems that when we think and when we apply ourselves to tasks or jobs we see need to
be done and which we want to do, relevant aspects of the attributes form themselves
temporarily into working systems which fit the task and go into action. (This is
reminiscent of the concept of emergence in complexity theory, the arising of pattern
through the process of self-organisation.) Thankfully, this ability, an integral part of our
professional and vocational constitution, continues into retirement and old age even if at
times it slows down!
TOWARDS REPOSITIONING OURSELVES FOR OUR MINISTRIES IN RETIREMENT
Thus far we have described what we have discovered about the conditions and context in
which we are pursuing our ministries in retirement and the characteristics and authority
which equip us to do so. This has provided the insights and conceptual framework for us
to reposition ourselves in retirement and so enable us to pursue sustainable forms of
ministry in the life and work of the contemporary church. We find ourselves better able
to cope with those aspects which sometimes we find emotionally, spiritually and
theologically disturbing and to participate more satisfyingly in the worship, life, mission
and spiritual well-being of today’s church.
We turn now to summarise under several subheadings what we consider to be essential
features in our reorientation.
Ongoing formation in retirement
Continuing personal and vocational formation is an important part of retirement. One of
the things that have contributed significantly to our formation over the years is reflecting
personally and with each other and other people about things that we needed to sort out
for one reason or another. Generally speaking we have done this through a combination
of analytical thinking on our own and with each other and journalling, modelling and
thinking things through on paper (‘writing thinking’). This paper is an example of this way
of reflecting through our co-consultancy sessions. And there are other ways. One of us
has explored his thinking by writing poetry; another has reflected on and harvested what
has been learned over the whole of his vocational life. And of course our devotions,
prayer, soul friendships, study, training, research, attending courses, lectures and
worship continue to enhance our continuing formation. What do not continue into
retirement are the formative effects of day to day ministry in partnership with other
people. This is a significant change in our circumstances.
Each and all of these modes of formation, basic to Christian discipleship and vocational
life, have the potential throughout our retirement to open up our lives to the formative
powers of the mystical spiritual activity of God. Such a combination of the human and
spiritual greatly enhances our ability to continue our ministry, deepen and renew our
spirituality and all aspects of our personality, convert knowledge and experience into
wisdom and so contribute to the effectiveness of our ministry in retirement.
As we have seen, a significant feature of retirement is the opportunities it presents for
self-deployment. Clearly our well-being as supernumeraries, and that of those closely
related to us, depends to some considerable degree upon what we make of the freedom
and responsibility inherent in our retirement for self-deployment in ministry. By and large
we have made some good decisions but we have also made some bad ones! Making wise
choices can be surprisingly difficult. Reflecting on our experience we established that
making one’s choices can lead to good or bad outcomes in relation to the continuing
exercise of our vocation particularly in our relationships with church leaders and people,
those close to us, and ourselves.
It also involves establishing parameters and no-go areas to avoid painful and
unproductive experiences caused by mismatches between opportunities, our personal
abilities and resources and our vocations. Predicting these possible eventualities can be
difficult. The dangers of overreaching ourselves and over-involvement, emotionally and
relationally, are considerable especially when we are moved by pressing needs and
become overambitious for the church and ourselves.
Reviewing our self-deployment
Classifying the work in which we are engaged in the following way proved to be helpful
when assessing it and establishing criteria for the kinds of work in which we should and
should not be engaged.
Work in the private domain (which is largely self-selecting): informal counselling and
pastoral work; reflecting and writing; reading, study and research; supporting those in
office; informal and formal consultancy work. Consulting, counselling and supporting
involve establishing understandings and effective working relationships and making
private contracts. This kind of work has been and continues to be rewarding and deeply
fulfilling. We have not encountered significant problems with these forms of vocational
employment, except that is, those inherent in doing them effectively.
Work in the public domain: preaching; project work; lecturing, working on courses and in-
service training programmes. These discrete pieces of work are/were variously
contracted and authorised by the church and other Christian and secular institutions.
Again we found no problems in doing this work except those inherent in it.
Participating in formal church meeting and Councils: can work well and be satisfying but,
as ever, can also be disappointing, irritating, frustrating and painfully dysfunctional.
Sharing in meetings when in retirement when one has no clear or executive
responsibilities can be problematic.
Engaging with church bodies as supernumeraries at the margins of or outside
organisational systems can be problematic. Attempting to influence policy decision at
different levels of the church from this position we have found to be invariably
ineffective, stressful and frustrating.
Some of the most exciting, interesting and worthwhile work in which we have engaged
during our ministries in appointments and retirement have taken us beyond our comfort
zones. Rising to the challenge of such work has been of the essence of our Christian
ministries. However, reluctantly we have come to realise that working within our comfort
zones is increasingly important to our well-being and that of those with whom we live
and that we should be circumspect about undertakings that take us, or are likely to take
us beyond them.
Controlled emotional involvement
For the main part we have been greatly fulfilled vocationally in and through our
retirement ministry, and for that we consider ourselves to be extremely fortunate and
blessed. At times, however we have allowed the dissatisfaction resulting from a
comparatively small section of our activities to eclipse the satisfaction and fulfilment or,
to use another metaphor, the bad experiences have discoloured the whole of our
experience in the same way that dye does to a liquid. Realising this has helped us to see
things in context and led to us feeling less negative.
Choosing carefully is critical to our well-being and efficacy and involves two aspects. The
one is restricting ourselves to undertaking work which experience shows is likely to be
creative and which has acceptable stress levels and affordable emotional costs. The other
is disciplining ourselves not to get involved in activities most likely to be ineffectual and
to cause disproportionally high levels of emotional stress.
Guidelines can help us to act circumspectly especially when our feelings are in danger of
overriding our reservations. These are best established and internalised when we can be
objective and realistic about our previous good and bad experiences and most effective
when drawn up and used with those with whom we live.
Recently, one of us has tended to avoid church services and meetings which previous
experience leads him to believe could be distressing. Also he has taken a more detached
perspective about local developments which concern him but about which he can do very
little. Recognising the limits of his areas of responsibility has, unsurprisingly, had led to a
sense of relief.
Confused contextual interaction
A significant difference between ministry before and during retirement relates to our
experience and understanding of the contexts in which we minister. During ministry in
appointments we experience the cutting edge of the religious, organisational and secular
contexts operative at the time in ways that we do not in ministry in retirement.
Experiencing the authority of the contexts, and of working situations they generate, from
positions integral to them is subtly and significantly different from the experience of
them at their periphery or from outside of them. Important nuances are simply not felt
from this position. Consequently, interaction between those in appointments and those
in retirement has to negotiate different perspectives and experiences of important
internal and contextual factors. Those in appointment may, for instance, find it difficult to
work with supernumeraries whose ministries were forged in contexts fast receding into
history and of which they have no first-hand experience. As supernumeraries, on the
other hand, we may be in danger of simplistically transferring what we learnt in one
context to another to which it does not apply – and be seen to be doing so!
Our reflections have brought us to a new awareness of these dynamics but we have yet
to work out all of the implications of what we are glimmering. Howbeit, what is important
is to take seriously and generate wider understanding about the nuances of these
complex conceptual and affective interactions related to contexts between ministers in
appointments and those of us in retirement – and, by extension, between those of us in
the first phase of retirement and those who have been retired for twenty or thirty years!
As already noted, through our explorations we discerned that there comes a point in our
vocational lives when our achieved authority is associated with our past rather than our
present; it becomes historical rather than present. This led us to think about the
progression of vocational life in retirement through its various phases to our death. Our
proximity to ministry in appointments at the point of our retirement is gradually giving
way to feelings of being distanced from it, as the field in which we minister contracts. At
some point we would like to pursue this further and identify and face positively points of
contraction and withdrawal and explore ways of negotiating them.
In this section we decided to write individual reflections rather than attempt a composite
David Copley: Reflecting on Ministry
Perhaps the significant thing about becoming a minister in retirement has been the
opportunity to reflect. Not in order to indulge in nostalgia, although inevitably there is
some of that, but to express astonishment at the fact that throughout my life I have been
accompanied. And in that rather belated discovery to realize that those people who have
trodden the way with me have also helped unpack the meaning of God’s constancy and
I have used the time to explore these discoveries in short glimpses. In Frodsham I
have had the discipline of performing poems twice a year in a very pleasant series of little
concerts of music and verse. What I realised I was doing in that time was to compose a
series of reflections under the broad title of Sacred Times, Sacred Places. Poetry for me is
about stripping down language so as to discover metaphor and meaning in story and
meditations. In the consideration of these incidents, memories, glimpses I have
discovered that for me the telling says something beyond the story. It indicates
something unsuspected at the time, but which now in this wonderful part of one’s life
can explain something of God’s presence.
Something has been working away – far more subtly than all my struggles to preach and
teach- perhaps it is the WOW factor....
There they were, in those carefree, innocent days,
clutching themselves in the early morning air,
hardly able to believe it.
They were going on a chara
and they were going camping.
Most of them had never dared leave their bit
of Birmingham and none had left the city.
Thrilled, they yelled – ‘hey, animals with horns,’
‘where are the houses?’ ‘It’s all green’
‘OOOh’. Then chanted ‘where’s the sea?’
It took all day, what with toilet stops, sick stops,
picnic stops, fuel stops. Hill crawling, gears crunching
so, long before the coast was reached,
the children, worn out by relentless
chatter and excitement, slept.
It was evening when we arrived and before
we went for supper, before they saw their tents
we went to see the sea. They’d asked –
‘what’s it like?’ ‘is it big?’ ‘is it cold?’
‘will it hurt?’ ‘can we drink it?’
But nothing we blasé students could say would
ever have prepared them. The bus stopped behind
sand-dunes and the children scrambled,
clawed their way up over the top,
there they stood – jaws dropped. Silent.
We looked at them gazing, gob-smacked,
as their wide-eyes took in the immensity
the sheer awesomeness of water stretched
as far as you could see in all directions.
A moment of perfection.
GREENUP GHYLL, DAY 3 COAST TO COAST WALK
Days on the Coast to Coast begin well.
Very grand breakfasts, sessions with maps,
a third coffee and more toast,
so you step out full of optimism.
Leaving Stonethwaite was just so, to a point.
We emerged, fortified, but to a day bereft of views.
As we walked, our steps heavy
at the prospect of a thorough soaking.
We plodded up Greenup Ghyll with no landmarks
all was shrouded, buried, in a dense mist.
The three of us one, in gloom –
no jokes, no tales, nor even any theology.
‘But,’ we bucked ourselves up, ‘there’s a
lovely walk, lurking here, somewhere.’
We reached Ghyll Head, stopped for a
breather, turned to peer back and then the miracle.
As if a celestial stagehand was working the curtain
the clouds rolled back from north to south
from Skiddaw to the Langdales
the landscape was realised, lit by a new lighting plan.
Psalms were sung, cartwheels turned,
for now that which was dull and drear
had been filled with new glory;
and we knew we were on holy ground.
Perhaps it is because we can recall and identify such moments as encounters with the Beyond,
that we are privileged to be called on as interpreters. However, we do need to be reminded of
the gift that we have received.....
Each room in the old colonial house
had two or three beds. Each occupied.
The only sounds were the ceiling fans
idly cooling the morbid air.
The patients so thin, their heads on the pillows
seemed to be body-less. It was as if,
they were there secretly. Private deaths.
AIDS had put them in quarantine.
One patient was different. Patricia,
just seven, born with HIV had just
recovered from a life threat’ning cold
but now was ‘Deputy Nurse’.
She skipped from bed to bed
leaving the patients lighter in heart
‘She’s such a breath of fresh air’ Matron said,
as the fans creakily shifted old air.
Her smile cut through the gloom
And as she brought drinks or tit-bits
She enlivened the place, through her
the spirit of God breathed.
One of the most amazing things is that in being entrusted with this great privilege, which I
celebrate this year as I have been ordained for 40 years, is that we are ministered to, usually in
surprising ways and places....
‘Look, look,’ he pointed; anguished to his fingertip.
We saw sand, churned; rutted; plundered.
‘This was our garden – here were bananas,
pomegranates, melons, artichokes; food
for so many.
Then they came,’ as he spoke,
at the distant top of the plot, a jeep
appeared, soldiers leapt out; they looked
alarmingly armed as they watched us
‘The settlers came and tore out our garden,
tore out our hearts.’ ‘ When?’ ‘Just yesterday –
they say we have no rights, but my grandfather
worked this land, why cannot I continue to feed
Newly arrived in a strange land, the sense of not belonging, of knowing no-one, like an
ache, wells up inside me. And I remember others who have sat by a riverside in a strange
land, cut off from the familiar, wondering if ever again they will feel able to sing the
Lord’s song. Exiled in the unfamiliar, stripped of the familiar and reassuring, their lostness
generates anger and resentment, expressed in lament. Their forbears too, had known
At this some of us charged towards the soldiers,
alert now on seeing enraged foreigners.
Argument and pleas met implacable
certainty – ‘this land is ours, it belongs not to Palestinians,
but to us.’
We chastened, helpless, returned to our bus,
reluctant to leave Gaza and its disenfranchised.
As we sat feebly, men appeared, surrounded us.
A moment of anxiety as they climbed onto the coach,
armed, with dishes.
From these platters, they offered each of us
a cucumber, a thank offering for our support.
We ate their last harvest gifts. For us
Being gifted with the privilege of celebrating communion and extending God’s blessing to so
many wonderful people, I have realised that modesty is the essential human attitude.
RINCON DE LA VICTORIA, ANDALUCIA
There was not a soul about
at least, none to be seen.
We gazed at the cream gold sea
listened to the gentle hushed crash
as incoming waves pebble-stirred.
Were we the first to hear it?
Were we the first to see?
That moment’s unique shape;
the light, the colour; the mirror-
calm ocean, the tide’s modest swell.
Then we realised - as if it were
new - that the sea in its every
mood, shade, texture, sound is
forever and we, onlookers in
time and place, are transient. Mortal.
Ian Johnson: Exile or Journey?
It’s Saturday afternoon on the riverbank at Brisbane and it seems the whole world is here
or at least its representatives. From East and West there are children, young lovers,
family groups, seniors and friends. They stroll, eat, sit, and bask in the sun, paddle and
swim. I sit alone, watching the wide river flow to the sea and this throng, this Jacob’s Coat
gathering, ebbs and flows around me. And I am suddenly and painfully aware of my
I find the metaphor of exile has an attraction in describing some of my emotions in my
experience of ministers in retirement. I find myself in a strange place, amongst people
who are unfamiliar and many of the ties of belonging have been cut as I have moved into
a new phase of ministry. Whilst new relationships are established, there is a gradual
alienation as cultural and ecclesiological changes take place. Increasingly I feel that I no
longer recognise the world or the Church in which I find myself; exile suggested itself as a
description for some of my experiences as a minister in retirement.
My negative reactions to these experiences can sound like echoes of Israelite complaints
“it was better before, why have you brought us here?” But the dominant salvation motif
of the OT is journey out of exile, not the experience of exile itself. And that motif is
incarnated in the ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus as he opens our eyes to the
Kingdom within us an around us. The disciples on the road to Emmaus are opened up to
the resurrection life as they journey back to their familiar home; it will never look the
An outcome which I value enormously is that it was a deeply rewarding experience of the
koinonia of vocational collegiality – or was it just another product of the collegiality and
interpersonal understanding and soul friendships that have been built up over a very long
period of time by working together in these ways and the ups and downs of our
ministries? The answer is probably that it was both; it was one of countless other
outcomes of the long association of thinking and working together and our deep mutual
trust and confidence in each other. I value both the intellectual rigour of our co-
consultancy sessions, their spirituality and the good humour and banter! They are great
experiences of the fellowship of the Methodist ministry.
exile and the journey out of it. Their excitement at the prospect of release could hardly
be contained but it was short-lived when the realities of the journey hit home. Time and
again they complained bitterly “would that we had died in Egypt, would it not be better
for us to go back?” (Numbers14.4). Time and again they doubted their leadership and the
God who was leading them to freedom: “why have you brought us to this wretched
place.” (Numbers 20.4). And many would never enter the land of their dreams. Was
their journey for life or death?
So exile is an inappropriate metaphor. A journey of different stages, or a pilgrimage, far
better describes our vocation and our spirituality. What we are unprepared for is the
painful, disturbing and downright difficult aspects of it – and just when we thought we
could take our ease after our years of travel in our previous ministry! Repositioning our
life and faith for the next stages of the journey is the story of God’s people from time
immemorial – but it’s a hard lesson every generation has to learn for itself.
“Why have you brought us here?” can be an accusatory or resentful question. Or it can
indicate an openness to look for what God is calling us to be in the place in which we are
George Lovell: Christ’s Responsibility and Ours
My first reflection must be about participating in the consultations from which this paper
evolved. Grappling with our thoughts and feelings about our experiences of pursuing our
vocations in retirement drew heavily upon our emotional intelligence, our understanding
of the praxis and theology of ministry and our Christian commitments and spiritual
insights. Engaging together in this disciplined way had many outcomes some of which are
described and discussed in this paper.
These tenets of my faith help me to put things into perspective and to see that my future
and that of my vocational endeavour is secure in Christ not in me but in the flux and flow
of the life of the Christian church and society. My work will end; that of the church and of
Christ will go on into eternity. And to that I say, amen!
Charles New: Changing Times and Seasons
It was the pre-ordination probationers’ retreat held at the Anglican Diocesan Retreat
House in Crawshawbooth. An ex-President was addressing us. He told us that when he
recalled his own ordination it seemed to him that a great door had slammed shut behind
him and that there was no going back. “Be sure of your commitment” he exhorted us.
Well, I was not sure then, and I am even less sure now about the door slamming but I do
agree that involved in presenting oneself for ordination there is something of the turning
one’s back on other possible vocations and life-styles. And whilst I would not want to
overplay it there is something of sacrifice too. And for these and other reasons, my
Other reflections relate to my ministry and the work that I have been able to do. As I
reflect on it in this the eighty-fifth year of my life, the fifty-fifth of my ministry and the
twenty-first of my ministry in retirement I consider myself extraordinarily fortunate and
greatly privileged to have been called by God into the work of the Methodist Church; my
heart is full of gratitude to God and to Methodism. I am humbled and amazed that the
call is as a real now as it was sixty years ago and that I am still able to pursue my vocation
actively, howbeit less vigorously and extensively, but still with deep satisfaction.
Doing this work has led me to reflect on my ministry as a whole, what I have been able to
do and what I have failed to achieve. Reviewing it from the last phase of my life and
ministry I find myself contrasting the privilege with what I have been able to do, the
imperfections of it and its limitations. Various theological observations bring it into some
perspective. However much I do and however hard I work, I can only make miniscule
contributions to what is needed in the grand economy of the Kingdom of God. Small it
might be, but it is massive to me. Whilst I am committed to it, every so often I get
involved in trying to influence things more comprehensively, generally with little
apparent success and much frustration. Providentially, critical aspects of my faith release
me to give myself without reserve to the work I believe God has given me to do and to
endure the frustration I experience when I fail to influence events and developments in
ways which I would like. One aspect is that our contributions are consummated not in
and of themselves but in the work of Jesus Christ: ‘all things are held together (cohere) in
him’ (Colossians 1:17). Redeeming and integrating all the pieces of work related to
human and spiritual well-being is Christ’s work and not mine. I must not confuse my
contextual and holistic responsibility with that of Christ’s. Again and again I have to learn
and re-learn to: value the importance of what I do and of the local contributions in
contradistinction to the national ones; to accept as graciously as possible the serious
limitations of my own competence and responsibility; to learn to live with the unwanted
side effects and consequences of doing so; to trust more fully in Christ’s ministry.
Another aspect of my faith is that ‘in the Lord your labour cannot be lost’. Coming as it
does at the end of a long chapter on the resurrection (1Corinthians 15:58) I take it that
Paul means that our work is to be redeemed and raised as a part of the general
resurrection. In faith, this greatly encourages me when much that has been achieved in
and by the church at considerable cost which I consider to be valuable is being lost and
destroyed or appears to be so.
Your will, not mine, be done in all things, wherever you may place me,
in all that I do and in all that I may endure; when there is work for me
and when there is none…when I am valued and when I am
disregarded… I willingly offer all I have and am to serve you as and
where you choose…
Now instead of listening to my own voice Sunday by Sunday, the product in most cases of
considerable reading and writing the week prior, I in most part sit and listen to other
peoples’. In some cases it is evident that they too have struggled with the texts and
carefully crafted both their sermon and the act of worship. But in too much of my
experience there is little evidence of either being the case.
Now, instead of being an active participant in meetings and forums where local, District
and on occasions Connexional policy is discussed, I am, in the main, the recipient of
trickle down management methods which when they do trickle sufficiently to reach me
leave little room for active participation in policy formulation or development.
Now, instead of being the player on the field, sometimes, hopefully, the participant
trainer, and occasionally the referee, I find myself a spectator being edged further and
further up the terraces and away from the touch-line. And with it, of course, the
temptation to believe that from that elevated view I have a better understanding of the
overall picture! ‘Your will, not mine, be done…’
Yes, I still believe this to be the essence of my relationship with God, through the
Methodist Church. I still want to exercise my ministry in retirement with the same degree
of commitment and sacrifice to which I tried to be faithful during my ministry in
appointments. But I have to admit I have yet to find the same degree of satisfaction that I
When once stationing meant to be under the direction of Conference and available to go
“not where we are needed but where we are needed most” now it seems all sorts of
personal limitations can be placed upon a Minister’s availability.
When once Connexionalism, that jewel which Methodism has to offer the shape of the
ecumenical church, was expressed via direct links from pew through debate in Church
Council, Circuit Meeting, Synod to and from Conference, now it seems debate in any of
reflecting upon my present situation, eight years into ministry in retirement, brings to
mind the Covenant Prayer which, for nearly fifty years, I have encouraged people to join
with me in reciting.
Praying it in the context of ministry in appointments was challenging enough. Doing so
now that I am “laid aside”, to borrow the Book of Offices version, I find altogether more
demanding. As we have suggested elsewhere in this paper, ministry in appointment
carries with it its own working structures, expectations and agendas and provides the
parameters within which to attempt the impossible; conformity to the sentiments of our
Covenant with God.
Perhaps this is due in part to the ways in which the nature of that other covenant I
entered into with the Methodist Church at Ordination appears to have altered over the
years. When once it was the strong will of Conference that ministers in retirement who
could not provide for their own accommodation should be charged a rent that avoided
them claiming Housing Benefit now, it seems, it is expected that the State will subsidise
the Church’s provision.
these forums is all but absent and rather they are places to approve and implement
policies determined by a centralised hierarchy shaping our Church’s life.
All this impacts upon my personal relationship with the Church, which has nurtured me
and opened up countless opportunities for personal and spiritual development, by in
some ways devaluing what I understood to be the covenant I entered into at ordination.
It is not all doom and gloom of course. More time with and for my family, and myself, are
priceless advantages. Sitting under the discipline of the lectionary on those occasions I
am ‘planned’ (i.e., appointed to take services in churches) is as stimulating as ever. Being
invited to be alongside those in appointments and to share my experience in ways that
might help them develop their own is good for the ego; in a humble consultancy sort of
way of course! Facilitating discussions between Circuits with a view to discovering new
ways in which to engage in mission is demanding and rewarding in equal measure. No, it
is by no means all doom and gloom.
However, ministry in retirement does require a re-appraisal of ones approach to ministry
and the context in which it is exercised. And this, I think, is what we have been teasing
out in our conversations and the writing of this paper on repositioning.
For me it involves discovering a realistic structure in which to discern God’s purposes and
to continue ones spiritual development; one that is not carried along by the currents of a
ministry in appointments, but rather ebbs and flows in a slower pace of life, maybe more
in touch with the rhythm of the seasons in a country town, blessed as we are by living
where we do. And certainly more constrained by the passing of the years!
It requires me to take seriously what I understand to be “God’s time”; that there does
seem to be the right moment, the confluence of circumstances, when things can take off;
and meanwhile maybe it is sufficient to do ones bit to help sustain rather than develop.
So perhaps the insight to gain from this reflection is that ministry in retirement is
predominantly a time of waiting, of being available, of responding rather than initiating,
of being one step removed from the cutting edge and, crucially, having the time and
space in which to contemplate all these things.
And to remember that however unlikely it might seem at times, “all things come together
for good for those who love Christ and who are called according to his purpose.”
Conclusions and Implications
This paper evolved from attempts to clarify our thoughts and ideas as an aid to further
reflection. We think it would be good to promote and engage in a wider discussion about
the issues we have experienced and analysed and so we offer our thoughts to other
ministers in retirement and to those with responsibilities for our pastoral care.
Essentially we have been exploring the changing contexts of our discipleship which can be
said to have four phases in each of which we have sought to employ our gifts and graces
under God and within the discipline of our church:
·pre-call as laypeople,
·in training and on probation,
·ordained and in appointments,
·ordained and in retirement.
Appreciating what the church does for us ministers in retirement, which considerably
enhances our well-being, it is important for us to affirm the covenant relationship
between the church and ourselves which informed our ministry in appointments and
It would be difficult to overstate the importance to us personally of working rigorously,
together for two or three years at critical issues about ministering in retirement and the
ways and means of repositioning ourselves.* It has had positive effects on our vocational
effectiveness and satisfaction. Each of us has made significant changes for the better in
our approach to ministry in retirement, our attitudes and behaviour and our work
programmes. We are repositioning ourselves in relation to many aspects of our
vocational life in retirement and our experiences of and encounters with contemporary
Methodism. It indicates that, whatever the church does or does not do towards the
vocational and personal well-being of ministers in retirement, there are personal and
structured ways and means by which we can contribute to our own salvation by working
at things ourselves.
continues to do so in retirement. However, we have come to recognise that both church
and supernumeraries are in a new and developing situation. There are now more
supernumeraries than there are ministers in appointments and many of us are fitter and
more active than were many in previous generations. So how can the church make best
use of this vast and growing reservoir of experience and skills? And how do individual
supernumeraries discern how much or how little they wish to participate in its
distribution? In the radically changing religious and social situation of the ‘third age’,
repositioning of both the church and individual supernumeraries in relation to ministry in
retirement must be a high priority.
Some questions a more formal exploration might address include
·How are ministers and their ministries in retirement perceived by themselves and
by the church?
·What are the expectations of the church and of its ministers
·How to better facilitate continuing vocational discernment in retirement by
supernumeraries and the church?
·How to make best use of the engagement of ministers in retirement in the life,
work and ministry of the church?
· How can the church exercise more effective pastoral care of her ministers in
retirement, given the demographic trends and consequent increased pastoral
However, this is not, and must not be allowed to be, a substitute for action which the
Connexion itself alone can and must take.
*See footnote on page 2
To achieve our purposes it did not prove necessary to do a similar exercise in relation to
ministry in other appointments/sectors which covers presbyters operating under both
theauthority of the Conference and a wide range of other organisations. In any case we
do not have the first-hand experience necessary to do so with authenticity. Nonetheless,
our hunch is that much of what emerges from our analyses and reflections is relevant to
their transition into retirement
Key contextual and affective characteristics
Ministry before retirement
Presbyters operate within connexional authority
and discipline and some given basic organisational
structures according to a job description and
expectations about performance but with
considerable freedom to decide how and when
they are going to do their work, construct their
own operational structures and organise their
Church provides oversight especially at points of
Work is given, chosen and selected.
Presbyters are primarily accountable to the church
in one way or another.
Presbyters are officially authorised stipendiary
‘providers’ of ministry.
Presbyters participate in a section or sections of
the organisational and administrative structures of
the church. Inter alia this means:
– operating within the system as a whole and seen
to be doing so;
– experiencing directly the system and its
developments, moods and atmosphere;
– being in continuous collegial relationships with
other executive, operators and participants.
Role, function and status surface and then
Ministry in retirement
Supernumeraries operate within connexional
authority and discipline and within their own
vocational discretion and the range of opportunities
presented; they themselves decide how they are
going to deploy and organise themselves and choose in
which church structures if any they are going to
Transitional oversight is notprovided
Work is chosen and selected.
Supernumeraries are primarily accountable to self.
Supernumeraries are recipients of ministry and
voluntary/paid ad-hoc/occasional providers of
ministry, officially and unofficially.
- direct experience and knowledge of the system as
it currently exists progressively becomes outdated
and access to it is reduced and reducing, becoming
progressively less effective
- are not normally in a given ongoing structured
working relationship with those in the system, lay
- erstwhile colleagues and associates who still
operate in the system, diminish in number;
- access to church systems diminishes
Ability to use one’s previous status to influence those
currently in office and through them the system
Role, function and status surface and then submerge.
Unhealthy and unhelpful affective behaviour in
Idealising the past.
Lamenting that we do not have the powers,
positions and opportunities we once had (or
fantasise that we had) to influence situations and
to feel we were doing so.
Forgetting our past failures to achieve objectives
and our previous incompetence and impotence.
Arrogantly assuming that if we had our previous
abilities we would be able to do better than
those currently in power.
Invidious and simplistic comparison of the past
with the present: they are different eras with
Ignoring or sublimating legitimate disquiet and
discomfort for a false peace of mind and heart.
Acting or thinking as though we are in an
appointment and in power.
Attempting to use past relationships
manipulatively to influence policy through those
currently in power/authority/in office.
Appendix 2 Affective engagement with ministry and context in retirement
Healthy and helpful affective behaviour
Being realistic about our past and our
abilities, then and now.
Reviewing our ministry in appointments
realistically taking into account successes
and failure, warts and all in order to use it
realistically, constructively and creatively.
Genuinely thankful for continuing
opportunities to minister.
Critiquing our experience in order to learn
from it anything which is of relevance to
current developments and finding ways of
expressing it which are acceptable to
those currently in authority and with
Accepting our present status, with its
possibilities and limitations and learning
how to use it to best effect.
Finding how best to cope with the range of
our emotions (pain, sense of loss,
bereavement, spiritual deprivation,
frustration, emotional distress and anger,
etc) so that they are constructive rather
Being critical and empathic and supportive
to those currently in ministry in
Live in the present in the light of the past
and the future (‘Future and past subsisting
now’, Charles Wesley H and P 662 v3)
Appendix 3 Conferred and acquired status
Ascribed (or conferred or endowed or executive) status relates to assigned legitimated
positions in church or society. It is variously granted and bestowed by grace, favour merit
and earned qualifications; it is normally labelled, readily identifiable and understood; it
carries with it organisational, legal and constitutional rights power and authority. We
are temporary contracted occupants of this form of status: we accept and enter into it but
it is the gift of others; by definition our tenure is limited.
Achieved (or acquired) status is owned or gained variously on the basis of merit and
performance and reflects abilities, skills, gifts, earned qualifications, knowledge, wisdom,
achievements and charisma; it relates to personality, approach and attitude attributes.
People simply know when they experience it and ascribe high value to it: those who have
it ‘speak’ with authority. Achieved status is variously endowed with personal and
professional power and intellectual, moral and spiritual authority.