When a rector retires after a long tenure in a parish a congregation usually does a nice job of recognizing the priest's service. There might be speeches and memories shared, a fancy dinner attended by the bishop, a few gifts that highlight particular interests or hobbies. Some parishes have the tradition of commissioning an oil painting or at the very least they'll put up a nice photograph with the rector's dates of service.
And this is all very well and good but we can do better than this! I mean Derek Jeter cleaned up on the gift front.
Although, let's face it, some gifts definitely do come with strings attached. According to Bloomberg News, Jeter received approximately $33,000 in gifts from opposing teams over the past year (not including donations to his charitable foundation). This was especially meaningful since, you know, with his $12 million salary he couldn't have afforded that customized kayak the Tampa Bay Rays gave him. But based on his salary, Bloomberg estimated that Jeter would actually have to work two additional innings just to pay the taxes involved! Talk about the gift that keeps on giving…
Anyway, here are a few suggestions to better recognize retiring clergy:
1. Raise the rector's ratty cassock into the rafters of the parish hall.
2. Standing ovations after the sermon for the retiring rector's last 162 Sundays (sure that's about 3 1/2 years' worth but it's important to draw this out -- for the sake of the congregation).
3. Name a useless or dank part of the parish building after the rector. Like the "Father Gunn Subbasement Floor." Then trample all over it.
4. Give parting gifts during coffee hour on those 162 Sundays. Retiring rectors especially like crosses since they don't have very many of them. The bigger the better.
5. Retire the rector's name so that no subsequent rector can also be named Dowling (or whatever).
6. Hand out index cards to everyone in the parish and the community at large with the rector's cell phone number and the words "In case of pastoral emergency please call this number."
7. Place the rector's favorite vestments in a glass case in the sacristy -- think Hall of Fame -- so all successors will be suitably haunted as they prepare to celebrate the sacred mysteries.
8. Remove the church's altar and give it to the rector so he/she can "do this in remembrance of me" every time he/she enters the living room.These few suggestions should make everybody feel better about the ending of the pastoral relationship. Or, to paraphrase the deacon, "Go in peace to love and serve the Lord. But please go."