Author Topic: Early Retirement  (Read 3976 times)

Rev. Edward Engelbrecht

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Early Retirement
« on: October 14, 2021, 09:14:31 AM »
I wonder if there are pastors on the forum who have opted for early retirement and whether they would share their experiences. How has it gone personally and financially?

Update: Other considerations raised on the thread are (1) the circumstances of other church workers, (2) of congregations, and (3) of church worker families. These are factors that may affect a retirement decision. Perhaps there are others.
« Last Edit: October 16, 2021, 03:39:40 PM by Rev. Edward Engelbrecht »
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Michael Slusser

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Re: Early Retirement
« Reply #1 on: October 14, 2021, 09:40:20 AM »
I wonder if there are pastors on the forum who have opted for early retirement and whether they would share their experiences. How has it gone personally and financially?
What do you mean by "early"? Before you're eligible for Medicare? Before so-called normal retirement age (in my diocese, 70)?

Peace,
Michael
Fr. Michael Slusser
Retired Roman Catholic priest and theologian

Dan Fienen

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Re: Early Retirement
« Reply #2 on: October 14, 2021, 09:49:01 AM »
I "retired" at age 60. It was not entirely voluntary on my part as it was in part a solution to conflict in my parish. Financially it was quite difficult. I did some vacancy work and supply preaching. I also actively sought a part time call, which is what I eventually received and placed me in the position that I have now.
Pr. Daniel Fienen
LCMS

D. Engebretson

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Re: Early Retirement
« Reply #3 on: October 14, 2021, 10:14:17 AM »
In order to receive the maximum payout for Social Security I would have to wait until age 67.  However, I am eligible for Medicare at age 65.  My plan, at this point, is to retire not long after I turn 65, which is in a little over 4 years, which, I guess, qualifies in some way as "early retirement".  My wife is 5 1/2 years younger than me and we would have to find a way to pick up her insurance and a supplement for me, although she is is a director for direct sales company, so she has an income that will extend beyond my retirement. 

I have always planned to 'work' in retirement.  I believe that it is healthy to remain engaged and active.  I will also have to work, to some degree, to cover the additional insurance costs.  I already have other limited 'jobs' beyond the parish, so continuing them will be a natural extension of what I am already doing. I would simply like to step away from the responsibility of being a sole pastor entirely in charge of all facets of day-to-day ministry.  I will always be available for pulpit assist, at least as long as I am physically able.  I may, in time, help out in some vacancy work, but not right away.  I may retire from my current call, but I do not see myself 'retired' from ministry.  That, I see, was a lifetime commitment.  It's just the degree to which I will be involved. 
Pastor Don Engebretson
St. Peter Lutheran Church of Polar (Antigo) WI

John_Hannah

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Re: Early Retirement
« Reply #4 on: October 14, 2021, 10:33:39 AM »
I wonder if there are pastors on the forum who have opted for early retirement and whether they would share their experiences. How has it gone personally and financially?
What do you mean by "early"? Before you're eligible for Medicare? Before so-called normal retirement age (in my diocese, 70)?

Peace,
Michael

The Archdiocese of New York retirement age for priests is 75. A dear friend, who worked with me in our Bronx neighborhood for 20+ years and who presided at my wife Lorna's funeral, died exactly on the day before his 75th birthday.    :(

Peace, JOHN
Pr. JOHN HANNAH, STS

peter_speckhard

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Re: Early Retirement
« Reply #5 on: October 14, 2021, 10:38:55 AM »
My grandfather in Clintonville had to face retirement because of rapidly declining faculties. From the stories my family has told me, it is possible he hung on a little too long. Even though he wasn't especially old (I think he retired at 65) his once quick and subtle mind was already struggling before he retired. He and my grandmother moved out of state soon thereafter lest his decline be on display to those who knew him when he was well.

But my dad told me my grandpa preached about retirement as it was just coming to be seen in the post-war years could easily be a denial of vocation, as though your work was primarily a matter of making money, and once you could afford not to work, you took it easy. He felt like pastors should model for people in all vocations that the reward for one's life's work is not retirement in this life but in the world to come. So in any consideration of early retirement, the key would be understanding why we're doing what we're doing in vocational terms, getting an honest assessment of our continued effectiveness, and understanding retirement as a change in vocations for serving others, not switching from working for others for pay to living for oneself.   

Dave Benke

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Re: Early Retirement
« Reply #6 on: October 14, 2021, 11:13:36 AM »
My grandfather in Clintonville had to face retirement because of rapidly declining faculties. From the stories my family has told me, it is possible he hung on a little too long. Even though he wasn't especially old (I think he retired at 65) his once quick and subtle mind was already struggling before he retired. He and my grandmother moved out of state soon thereafter lest his decline be on display to those who knew him when he was well.

But my dad told me my grandpa preached about retirement as it was just coming to be seen in the post-war years could easily be a denial of vocation, as though your work was primarily a matter of making money, and once you could afford not to work, you took it easy. He felt like pastors should model for people in all vocations that the reward for one's life's work is not retirement in this life but in the world to come. So in any consideration of early retirement, the key would be understanding why we're doing what we're doing in vocational terms, getting an honest assessment of our continued effectiveness, and understanding retirement as a change in vocations for serving others, not switching from working for others for pay to living for oneself.

The pastoral vocation doesn't have an age designation at the far end.  Once ordained, ordained for life.  Active ordained service is another issue.  The connection to pension benefits and social security benefits, both of which are based on the worker's contribution, are really a factor of family financial planning, and not about the vocation itself. 

My grandfather served in parish capacity until his 80s.  I'm headed toward serving through my late 70s, all things and health considered.  My self-evaluation is that I'm not able at the level of 20 years ago, but that I'm still able.  Urban/multicultural brings with it a more direct approach from people telling me whether I'm on the ball or off the beam.  The key is to train leaders effectively and delegate effectively as you get older, from my perspective.  It's tougher right now due to the virus and the way things have changed, but that remains the best option for congregational care.  The congregation isn't a pastor's personal church, it belongs to the people of God as stewards on behalf of Christ.  One of my anecdotes from back in the day is that after I arrived in Brooklyn in the time of Synodical turmoil, I met a veteran pastor in the late 70s and introduced myself as the pastor of St. Peter's.  He responded, "Ah, Doc Brunn's church!"  Because that's whose church it had been for a long, long time.  However, he went on to ask, "How is Doc Brunn these days?"  So Pastor Brunn had died in 1949, thirty years prior.  I said, "He's at peace."

Of course, the decision on early retirement, unless dictated from outside (sorry to hear of Dan Fienen's situation as a former ecclesiastical supervisor), is a family decision, with all kinds of conversations and determinations involving the whole family and many combinations of good/better/best options.

Dave Benke

Dan Fienen

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Re: Early Retirement
« Reply #7 on: October 14, 2021, 11:22:52 AM »
Although I am no longer serving full time, I am still in active word and sacrament ministry. My congregation is very small, they could not support a full time pastor. They are also in a small population county and the only Lutheran church in the county. My ministry may be slower paced, but we serve God's people and our community.
Pr. Daniel Fienen
LCMS

peter_speckhard

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Re: Early Retirement
« Reply #8 on: October 14, 2021, 01:07:34 PM »
I turn 52 today, so early retirement isn't an issue on the radar yet, but one thing I think might serve a lot of people well is something comparable to Dan Fienen's situation, though hopefully not related to conflict but to simply slowing down with age. A pastor can still serve in the same basic capacity but at a different level of energy demands. One alternative would be the small parish that can't afford a full time pastor. But another might be team ministry in a place that has a strong senior pastor. Part time doesn't have to mean small parish.

I could easily see myself going either of those routes down the road. A key thing Dave said upstream is, "It's tougher right now due to the virus and the way things have changed..." Covid has been a big stressor, but the way things have changed is an ongoing stressor. The church of the future will need the wisdom and perspective of age, but probably the institutional leadership of the young. Sometimes burnout is avoidable if you take a step back and do something a little more focused without being responsible for everything. Was Ed said about the strain of being "the guy," the one in charge of and responsible for everything, is something you can only do for so long. It has nothing to do with preaching and teaching and visiting or serving the Lord by serving His people. It has everything to do with the energy of keeping fifty details in your head and making all the decisions, as well as not requiring the energy of translating all your basic assumptions and outlooks into a new world. Pastors approaching retirement age are increasingly strangers in a strange land, and that takes energy. Soon, a church might be better served by a younger pastor who grew up with the outlook of "the ways things have changed" but advised by an older and more experiences associate pastor.

My idea of early retirement would be phased. Right now I'm the senior pastor of a pretty substantial operation, but the things I enjoy about pastoral ministry and think I'm good at have little to do with the added responsibilities of being senior pastor. In eight or ten years I could see myself serving here or at a similar place but as an associate or in a part time capacity, easing into retirement by taking the burden of administration and decision-making away and leaving Bible studies, some preaching, visitation, or perhaps some focused aspect of ministry (just not the comprehensive whole that Ed talked about). Or going to a much smaller church as a full-time or part-time pastor. I can't picture ever being totally out of ministry, but I can picture becoming a liability without knowing it, and would choose to ease into retirement, whether early or not, rather than having a last Sunday and waking up Monday retired. But as we know, a lot can change, and quickly, and looking more than a month down the road is trickier now than ever.   

Dan Fienen

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Re: Early Retirement
« Reply #9 on: October 14, 2021, 01:32:12 PM »
I am reminded of the story of the pastor in a small town, rural America. His people noticed that some times he would drive out to the edge of town, park, and watch the trains go by on the busy interstate rail line. The people wondered at his fascination with trains. Finally a couple brought it up in conversation what he found so fascinating about the trains that highballed it past the town.


"Well," he responded, "sometimes it is just so refreshing to see something moving around here that I'm not pushing."


I'm not denigrating in the least the vital role that pastoral leadership needs to play in the life of the church. But if it is all left up to the pastor to plan, propose, promote, motivate, and sustain, eventually it wears one down. The people need also take responsibility for the vitality of the church. How to get them to not only see that, but do that has often eluded me. I've at times reflected that my ministry is that of Sisyphus, I keep pushing the stones of my people up the hill and given the least chance they role right back down.
Pr. Daniel Fienen
LCMS

Donald_Kirchner

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Re: Early Retirement
« Reply #10 on: October 14, 2021, 01:49:46 PM »
Since 2008, I've been practicing law full time and in a half-time call. I turned 70 in March and retired from the call May 31st. I'll continue to practice law full time so long as able.

I took off the summer from pulpit supply. I'll cover at a dual parish for the pastor's vacation on Reformation Day. Then will see how it goes after that. The DP said to let him know if I get bored.   ;)
Don Kirchner

"Heaven's OK, but itís not the end of the world." Jeff Gibbs

D. Engebretson

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Re: Early Retirement
« Reply #11 on: October 14, 2021, 01:54:01 PM »
One of the challenges of sole pastoral ministry after several years (20+) is that many things fall to the pastor and away from the lay leadership.  Lay leadership, in smaller parishes, especially rural ones like mine, also has a diminishing pool of leaders willing to step up and help.  There is a generational shift afoot as the Great Generation slips away and those behind seem to have less dedication to the day-to-day operation of the church.  In response to this reality we will be removing the term limits of our elected leaders at the upcoming voters' meeting.  I am certainly not in burn out and have continued commitment to my call, but the wear and tear is showing under the surface.  As noted, the pandemic has certainly complicated things immensely.  Our attendance is about 70% of what it was pre-COVID, and with the wave of the Delta variant it only seemed to offer one more excuse to stay away from church, that perceived toxic super-spreader place.  Some stay away out of fear, a fear I sense may linger long after the virus ceases to pose a serious threat.  And some will be lost, having not attended for so long the discipline of worship has disappeared.  All this wears on the shepherd. 

As noted, pastoral ministry does not come with an expiration date.  I will preach and preside over worship as long as I am physically and mentally able.  But I am not sure I am any longer able to correct the mistakes I have made of assuming too much responsibility over the myriad of details of keeping the parish afloat.  The best solution may now be having me step down in a few years, after a long and productive tenure, and after a bit of needed rest and renewal, find ways to again serve as I have been trained and called.
« Last Edit: October 14, 2021, 01:55:57 PM by D. Engebretson »
Pastor Don Engebretson
St. Peter Lutheran Church of Polar (Antigo) WI

Mike in Pennsylvania

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Re: Early Retirement
« Reply #12 on: October 14, 2021, 02:18:46 PM »
First, happy birthday, Peter.  I'm 20 years ahead of you.
Pastor Ed asked initially about early retirement and financial strains.
In 2010 it had become clear to me I could no longer stay in the ELCA and so at age 61 I "retired" and began taking my pension, having had my 30 years in, and having the benefit of a paid off mortgage.  I joined the NALC and in early 2011 I received a call to do intentional interim ministries.  A few months later I became Social Security eligible and started taking that as well.  We were paying our own health insurance which was slowly eating our savings.
Still, the interims were a part time income and my wife and I both had some work doing part time hospital chaplaincy and pulpit supply.
As we got to the fall of 2012, the Lord provided in terms of getting a full time call for my wife to a 2 point parish in Ohio while I served an interim about an hour away.  At that point we were down to maybe 3 months' worth of savings.  Her call also provided us health insurance which was a boon until I first, and later she, became Medicare eligible.
By 2019 it was becoming clear to me I didn't have the energy anymore for the interim pastorates, and my wife had become eligible for her full Social Security.  So we both retired from our calls and moved back to Pennsylvania, to help care for my mother-in-law, who will be 101 next week.
Of course COVID happened pretty soon after that, but we have kept busy with pulpit supplies (quite so this past summer), and I still have one committee position with the national NALC.  We will keep doing what we're able to do as long as we can, but I figure at some point we may not be doing much more than prayer ministry.
NALC Interim Pastor

peter_speckhard

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Re: Early Retirement
« Reply #13 on: October 14, 2021, 02:22:38 PM »
I think the kind of fatigue that affects many of us who grew up with the old expectations of what church and society were and now find ourselves in a world where everything has changed is not physical or mental in the regular sense of doing exercise or figuring out a brain teaser. It is the unavoidable fatigue of being responsible for something that isn't working and not knowing what to do about that. Part of may be perception. I remember a pastor friend whose church really grew in the twenty-something and thirty-something crowds said one key to his success with them is that he grew up an atheist and was a convert to Christianity, so he had no built-in vision of what things were supposed to be like. For example, younger people don't come to church every week, they come every now and then. To him there was nothing particularly abnormal about that, but other pastors would tear out their hair trying to figure it. Naturally he encouraged regular attendance, but the lack of it didn't drain him.

That's why I think a model that might work in the future is having the "senior" pastor actually be the junior pastor and having the more experienced pastor serve as a sounding board. What saps the energies of an older pastor doesn't necessarily phase a younger pastor, and most of the areas of ministry affected by that are in the decision-making and administrative side of things. If you're a stranger in a strange land, get help from the locals on logistical/organizational things, and the young people are native to this new world.   

Robert Johnson

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Re: Early Retirement
« Reply #14 on: October 14, 2021, 03:17:51 PM »
I retired 3 years ago at age 72. There was no ramp-down possibility for me, so it was a genuine retirement. On the one hand, it was 50 years of work getting increased unsatisfying due to institutional changes and I was glad to shed that; on the other, my 401 and 403 money has to last me the rest of my life. The inflation that is just now starting may make me regret not pushing further.

I see that we will get a 5.9% inflation increase in Social Security next year, the biggest increase in many years.

(Announcer's voice: but it's not even enough to cover the price increases already in place.)