When I started in the ministry – church transfers were handled in this way. If someone wanted to transfer their church membership within the ELCA and its predecessors – the new church where they were attending would write a letter to the church they were a currently a member and ask for a transfer. As a pastor I would not approve transfers until I had heard from the church itself that they were indeed taking responsibility for that person. That was an orderly way to ensure that the person was entrusted to the care of a congregation.
Well none of that happens anymore. People call up the church and ask for a transfers all the time. I used to try to fight it and get confirmation from the church to which they were transferring but people treated me like I was crazy and when I didn’t even get support from my bishop in a former synod when people in my congregation complained that I was doing that I gave it up. So now I just sign the transfer papers having no idea if these people really are going to join the church or not.
When I moved into this synod and the Bishop told us pastors that if someone from a nearby colleagues’ church was showing interest in transferring we were to CALL that pastor and have a discussion, with the idea in mind that there may be some sort of misunderstanding or reconciliation that could take place to keep the person in their original church. That never happens here either. There’s a church a few miles away that is leaving the ELCA and that pastor never calls me to tell me that my folks are going to church over there or that they are thinking of transferring. I just get the call from the folks asking for a transfer. I once even marched into his office and confronted him about it, quoting the bishop and he gave me no satisfactory answer. Now that they are leaving the ELCA I suppose I’ll see even more of those transfers.
It’s not about being possessive about members. It’s about community. It’s about spiritual care of one another. It’s not good for people to be able to just hop around from church to church because they don’t like what this pastor is saying or what hymns this church is singing or if someone looked at them funny after church. It’s about seeing ourselves as part of the larger church and individual congregations are expressions of that so we can work together to make sure people are care for. My secretary just looks at me and says “Nobody does thinks that” Oh well. At least my bishop sees things my way.