On March 16, 2022, I informed the Session (church governing body) of First Presbyterian Church of Palo Alto, that I would be leaving at the end of April.
Below is the letter shared with the congregation the next morning.
As I share in my letter with the larger community, I hope to avoid any speculative drama by being as clear as I can be about my motivations for leaving. The letter is transparent, honest, and has no lines to read in between. There are no secrets being hushed, there was no disagreement in vision, and I am not being forced out. I am simply and truly honoring my sense of call and listening to the weariness of my body, mind, and spirit.
Your prayers for my loving family and this remarkable community are welcomed, but in order to honor be present during the tenderness of pastoral transitions, the sharing of any reflections and updates will have to wait until after I complete my time of service. Other than some rest, I’m not completely sure what is next, but you all will be the first to know.
Lastly, nothing brings me more collegial joy than seeing church leadership find their groove during this difficult season. I also know that many folks are finding themselves in the same weary space as I am, but do not have the luxury or ability to step away for a time of renewal. I am grateful for family and resources that can support such a decision. No matter where you find yourself on any given day, filled with the energy of call or overwhelmed by the weight of the world, know that this pastor and many others see you and are grateful for you and your leadership. Thank you.
March 17, 2022
Last night Session accepted my letter informing them that I will not be seeking the permanent pastoral call and that I am resigning as pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Palo Alto. My final Sunday will be April 24, 2022 and my final day in the office will be April 30, 2022.
As you receive this news please know that this decision has not been made in response to anything that this community has or has not done. After wrestling with and praying through this decision alongside the Envisioning Our Future Together process I have discerned that I am not called to lead First Presbyterian Church into its next season of ministry. There is no person or group forcing me out, you are not too difficult of a church to pastor, you have not denied me any requests, there has been no unreasonable resistance to our envisioning process, and I have not given up on the idea that God is calling this place into a bold, just, and renewed future.
While many variables impacted my decision, the overriding reason that I am choosing to leave is that I can no longer deny the toll that the pandemic has taken on me. I am emotionally, spiritually, and physically worn out and it has become abundantly clear that I am in need of a time of Sabbath and renewal. With the amount of death and sickness — Including long-Covid — that has impacted my life over the past 24 months, combined with my congregational responsibilities and the pandemic leadership offered to the larger church, I am reluctantly admitting to myself that I have done enough.
Simply put, I have no more to give.
Our ordination vows call us to serve with, “energy, intelligence, imagination, and love” and, while I will always love this community and will be thoughtful in my leaving, I can no longer ignore my lack of energy and imagination. To pretend otherwise would be to strike at my integrity as a pastoral leader and would not be fair to you as a congregation as you envision the future. In this act, I am choosing to tend to my own health and wellness and allowing myself time for renewal.
As you absorb this news you will undoubtedly feel all that comes with pastoral transitions: surprise, anger, disappointment, relief, confusion, betrayal, grief, and/or excitement. I encourage you to feel the feelings, but I also hope you will be able to see our time together, especially during the pandemic, as deeply revelatory and filled with energy, intelligence, imagination, love, and laughter.
As this news becomes public, some will question why I decided to leave after only three years. The narratives will flow as freely as people’s imaginations will allow, but I urge you not to listen to the voices that aim to detract from the good work we have done over these three years.
I am proud of what we have accomplished together…
- We adapted to the pandemic and reimagined what it means to be and do church together.
- We welcomed new administrative staff and hybrid worship support.
- We held multiple webinars: from Good Friday Services that drew over 400 people to interviewing City Council Candidates to talking with leaders from across the country.
- We studied together: addressing everything from Filipino immigration to “Hood Feminism” to “The New New Testament” to race & food, to the plastics to indigenous justice issues.
- We worshipped in ways that affirmed our faith and dove deep into issues that we care about: gender, gun violence, climate change, poverty, immigration, and more.
- We co-created a Mission Statement that was not as much new as it was the reclaiming of historic principles and values of First Presbyterian Church of Palo Alto.
- We grieved the loss of saints, we stood for justice, and we found joy in ministry.
Throughout our time, you have shown adaptability and openness and I believe that what you have done thus far has prepared fertile and faithful soil from which God will reveal what is next.
As you process this news, please hold our family in tender prayer. We will be fine, but we don’t know where we will land in the long term or what our future professional lives will entail. That said, we are open to where the Spirit may lead and look forward to the paths God will be revealing.
Also hold one another in prayer: elders, members, friends, staff, and everyone who finds home here at First Presbyterian Church of Palo Alto. There will be some rough moments as you go through yet another pastoral transition, but with the assistance of San Jose Presbytery, your current staff, and your built-in grit and determination, I have no doubt that you will create a faithful space well-situated for the next person called to be your pastor. I am hopeful for whomever that might be and I will be your greatest champion as people inquire about serving with you in the future!
As we move into this tender time of pastoral transition, I place my trust in the relationships we have built and hope that we will spend our remaining time together wrapped in the same kindness, honesty, and care as we have been over these past three years.
My suggested transition timeline is as follows: over the rest of March and April, I will meet with people for final conversations, I will secure worship leadership through June, and I will work with Chyrise, the Personnel Committee, and staff to finalize administrative transition logistics. My final Sunday will be April 24, 2022, my final day in the office will be April 30, 2022, and we will vacate the Manse by May 31, 2022.
I hope to meet with as many people as I can during the month of April, so if you would like to meet [redacted contact and appointment info].
Lastly, while heavy-hearted, my spirit is filled with hope for who you and I will continue to become. Growing into who God hopes us to become is our deepest calling and I am grateful that we have been part of one another’s journey during this season of life.
Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow
This letter also appears on the church’s website: www.fprespa.org.