A pastor's retirement is often a bittersweet occasion. The pastor has become a constant, comforting presence to the congregation and has seen members through good times and bad. The thought of his retirement starts a grieving process for many as they anticipate the loss they will feel when he leaves. Still, it's important to put aside the sadness and celebrate his tenure instead. Hold a planning meeting to ask for input from interested members of the congregation. The pastor, too, might have ideas about what he would like for a send-off. The celebration need not be one event but could take many forms, depending on what feels like the right way to say "thanks" and "best wishes."
It's appropriate for a pastor's retirement celebration to begin with a commemorative service for all who wish to attend. Holding the service during normal Sunday service times will be convenient to most people. Though the pastor might give a farewell sermon, this is more a time for others to speak about him. Invite people who will mean the most to your pastor -- previous pastors he worked with, an early parishioner, someone who has moved away, community members and regional church officials-- and have some welcome surprises on the guest list. Include some of his favorite songs and scriptures in the service, too.
Luncheon or Dinner
Sharing a meal allows people to talk and share memories. A luncheon is a natural followup to the special service, but making time for a dinner can convey the importance of the celebration. Asking everyone to bring a dish is an easy way to bring the food together. The event is the time to unveil gifts from the congregation. Consider having a microphone and giving everyone the chance to speak about what the pastor has meant to them. Or ask a group from the congregation to put together a humorous or touching skit. Order a cake decorated with a meaningful sentiment and extra cake to have enough for everyone. Cutting the cake is a convenient way to signal the end of the event.
If the traditional lunch or dinner isn't your church's style, consider a casual pizza party, picnic or even a bonfire. Or have a celebration where the idea is the focus and the food is secondary. Have an event where everyone can participate equally, such as a card shower, where everyone brings a card or personal note. Have a table with blank cards, too, and a sign inviting people to write a personal note to the pastor and place it in the basket, also on the table. Or hold a roast or a "This is Your Life" evening in his honor, asking everyone to contribute ideas or volunteer to speak. It might be appropriate to honor and thank the pastor's wife, to a lesser degree, if she has embraced programs of her own, beyond the traditional role of supportive pastor's wife.
If your congregation can afford an expensive gift, a trip to somewhere he's always wanted to visit or go back to is a fitting, memorable retirement gift. The sentiment behind a gift is always more important than buying something expensive, though. Put up an artificial tree in the party room, and ask guests to bring small gifts to hang on the branches. Ask each family to contribute a photo with caption for a memory book. Or plant a tree in his memory, accompanied by a plaque detailing his years of service. A plaque expressing thanks is an inexpensive yet lasting keepsake, too. If the pastor has made meaningful contributions to the church, naming a room or garden after him is inexpensive yet the highest of compliments.
Barbara Bean-Mellinger is a freelance writer who lives in the Washington, D.C. area. She has written on business topics for afkinsider.com, smallbusiness.chron.com, Harbor Style Magazine, the Charlotte Sun and more, as well as advertising copy and materials. Barbara holds a B.S. from the University of Pittsburgh and has won numerous awards in B2B and B2C marketing.