Why I am Leaving: A Reflection by Dean Shambaugh

Ben in Suit

A Reflection by Dean Shambaugh

“So why are you really leaving?” Of the many comments I received at the door last Sunday, this one stuck in my mind. The person seemed to be looking for some inside information, juicy details, or some hidden explanation that just isn’t there.  Yes, getting the cathedral through the years of Covid has been spiritually and physically exhausting. The retirements of Albert Melton and Lynne England and the departures of Eleanor Prior and Thurl Headen were not just the loss of key senior staff and partners in ministry, but also of colleagues, confidants, and friends. The tension between the vestry and former members of BBCC and working through a Title IV process this fall both took a huge amount of time and emotional energy.    I, however, am not leaving because of these things. I, in fact, feel comfortable leaving because they have been or are in the process of being resolved. Though challenging, these things represent just a small blip on 18 years of truly incredible ministry together. 

As Christmas showed, we are “back” from Covid. Our worship, our programs, and concerts are going strong and our outreach to the wider community is hitting record levels almost every week,  With Christian Clough there is new life in music and with Avery Schott, the administrative and communication sides of the cathedral continue to grow and evolve in amazing ways. The vestry has engaged a consultant to continue the healing process with the former BBCC and Title IV process was completed on a pastoral level, allowing me to use lessons learned for both personal and professional growth.  When I look at the cathedral today, I see new life and energy bubbling up all over the place. The Spirit is moving. God is at work.  St. Luke’s is in a good place and so am I.

The truth is that I have been felt God’s nudging and have been in discernment about where to go next for a long time. Some search processes, like that for the Bishop of Europe, were very public. Most were not. The average length of stay for a clergy person in a congregation is 5-7 years.  When I arrived, I planned to stay 10 years, which would have gotten my kids through high school.  I stayed longer – and longer than all but one other dean in St. Luke’s history – for a number of reasons: to finish the campaign for marriage equality, to help with the transition of a new bishop, to finish the capital campaign and Rose Window Wall, to get the cathedral through Covid, and most recently to help get new key staff people on board. One parishioner asked me to stay “through the time of Trump.” I think I have done that too. I for all these reasons. Most of all I stayed because I fell in love: with Maine, with Portland, with St. Luke’s, and with you. I love what we do and have done together and I love what God does and has done with, through, and in us. 

There are, however, life cycles in congregations and in clergy and for my health and the health of the congregation it is time for something new. I will be 60 this year and with 35 years of experience and four congregations under my belt, have energy and time for one adventure more before retirement. In all my career, I have done all kinds of things, with all kinds of people, all over the world. In all this, I have never been was actually trained to be – a parish priest, in a “normal” pastoral-sized parish without a dozen plates spinning in the air.  St. Luke’s East Hampton provides that opportunity, a chance to go deeper and reconnect to a call to ministry received when I was younger than my children are today. The fact that St. Luke’s is near the beach, close a Coast Guard station, and even shares our name, isn’t bad either.   

Many of responses to my leaving can be summed up in the phrase “Happy for you. Sad for us.” I have the same mixed emotions myself. The love I felt from you on Sunday was overwhelming. Know that I feel the same about you.