Ten years ago I asked to be released from the church I was serving. Yes, this was an “Article 17”. Almost immediately, our family moved from Nova Scotia to Ontario. That took us out of the classis where I’d served, but it brought us closer to my parents. Though I can’t say it was intentional on my part, it also brought us into a congregation where we could worship and be cared for. I wonder how many others have had that after 17.
I don’t have any figures on this, but I have a feeling that too many do not. Some are unable to leave town the way we did. Where do they go? Relations with the church they had served are often too strained. If there is a nearby CRC, there are usually still complicating connections. I’ve heard some pastors say they felt they were left wandering in the wilderness. At the same time, I think we have to admit that many of us pastors have a hard time receiving care. Some of us isolate ourselves. This is where we sometimes hear that classis should do something. But that raises a question for me; can a classis provide pastoral care?
Classes try. Classes appoint oversight committees for pastors and churches that have experienced an Article 17. But I think the focus of these committees is re-entry into or readiness for ministry more than pastoral care. And the cynic in me wonders how equipped classes are for this task, when the default course of action seems to be to require a unit of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE). I mean CPE may be great, but it cannot be the solution to every situation.
Classes also have regional pastors. Some are excellent. But, regional pastors find their attention divided between the church they are serving and other pastors who can be all over the map, geographically or theologically. There is only so much they can do, and having a pastor is not the same as being part of a congregation.
In the time I was off, I was helped most by the members of my parents’ church. These were people who welcomed us into their church and their homes. They provided a community for me, my wife and our children. They gave me space, a place to worship without having to lead, work I could do with my hands, a group to play hockey with, as well as encouragement. These are things no classis could provide.
Can a classis provide pastoral care? I am not sure a classis can. Perhaps you have a different point of view. Perhaps you have experienced models that work better than the ones I have described. If so, please share them. What do you do after 17?