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The Last Pastor

Faithfully Steering a Closing Church

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Westminster John Knox Press
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Gail Cafferata was heartbroken when the church she pastored voted to close its doors. It may have been the right decision, but it led to a million questions in her mind about her call, leadership, and future. She began to think that other pastors who close churches perhaps go through this same experience.

This led her to conduct a sociological study of over 130 pastors in five historically established denominations (Episcopal, Lutheran, United Methodist, Presbyterian, and United Church of Christ) who were called to serve churches that closed. This book tells the results of that study, which consisted of many interviews, and the hard-won lessons learned by these courageous pastors.

The Last Pastor not only tells the story of the challenging situation of what happens when a church closes, but also offers readers the experience of grace and growth through their willingness to faithfully steer their own journey along with hers.

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Gail Cafferata received her PhD in sociology from the University of Chicago and then went on to serve for twenty- two years as a medical sociologist in universities; the National Center for Health Services Research; Children’s Hospital, Boston; and other nonprofits, writing over twenty-five academic and government publications. In 1997 she received her MDiv from Episcopal Divinity School and served a Northern California congregation for nine years before it closed. Cafferata currently serves as a Visiting Researcher at Boston University School of Theology.

The Last Pastor
Faithfully Steerin...
by Westminster John Knox Press
Gail Cafferata
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“Gail Cafferata helps us understand the complexity of deciding when and how to conclude a ministry. She does so with sensitivity to the spiritual and practical dimensions of the decision to close a church that is informed both by extensive research and personal experience.”
—William McKinney, President Emeritus, Pacific School of Religion (United Church of Christ)


“This is the book I wish I’d had years ago when my first call found me leading a church through closing. Cafferata writes with empathy, wisdom, and grace about the challenges and costs clergy experience closing congregations. Using stories and insights from her and other clergy’s experiences, she affirms God’s presence and helps to navigate the journey. She also suggests ways that judicatories and colleagues can be supportive.”

—Lucy Kolin, Bridge Pastor, Sierra Pacific Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

“Gail Cafferata brings together the rigorous research of a professional sociologist, the experience of a devoted pastor who herself had to close a church, and the deep insight of a theologian in this significant book written for church leaders having to close churches. Artistically woven together, drawing from many pastors’ experiences, the book takes one on a voyage into the death and resurrection that are at the heart of the Christian experience. Strongly recommended for all who have any responsibility for congregations struggling with viability and for those who support or teach them.”

William S. Stafford, Dean Emeritus of The School of Theology, Sewanee (Episcopal Church)

“Congregations—like the faithful who comprise them—are born, mature, decline and die. And yet, preparing for the death of a congregation has been an unpleasant and therefore a largely unexamined process. Rev. Cafferata breaks the silence and gives voice to pastors who have shepherded their flocks through church decline and closing. She brings both personal and professional care to understanding the unique role of pastoring a dying congregation.”

—John L. Odom, presbyter for Community Life, the Presbytery of Mid-Kentucky, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) 

“This insightful, ambitious and compelling book is particularly relevant as we all look at an unknown future, one now complicated by a pandemic and its still unknown effects. Church is changing in ways we never envisioned. Yet we are called to be faithful and to join God’s resurrection hope. As this book proclaims, the journey of church will continue.” —The Presbyterian Outlook
“If your church is near the end, The Last Pastor will help you to: initiate the conversation; look at the skill sets needed in leadership; be aware of the negative reactions that will surface; find the silver linings for pastors and church members; and consider the ultimate ways the church might ‘live on’ through a number of opportunities that come with closing. In other words, this book can help you move on with your heads held high.” —Baptist Standard
“This book will particularly be of interest for denominational leaders—bishops, judicatory leaders, and researchers—who will increasingly face the reality of church closings in the years ahead. Cafferata rightfully resists the urge to provide easy answers, but she does provide an orienting set of insights and complexities that will help many in the Mainline Church ask different and better questions. Seminary leaders and faculty may also benefit from Cafferata’s insights on a form of pastoral leadership that stands to be more common in the future. There is no doubt that The Last Pastor is a sobering account, but it is also an important one often ignored.” —Review of Religious Research
“Cafferata details the diverse experiences of the pastors, noting both their faith and the faith of their congregations. She argues against the notion that closing a church means failure and encourages pastors who close churches to seek help and community.” —Faith & Leadership
“There will be more pastors serving as last pastors in the coming years. For those who do, The Last Pastor is a valuable guidebook offering light, hope, and wisdom for those who mind the tiller of a closing church.” —The United Church of Christ’s Center for Analytics, Research & Development, and Data

“This a much-needed counter-cultural book about closing churches that covers a huge amount of ground…. Cafferata’s professional and ministerial background have been well deployed in creating a rich and varied picture of the different experiences of church closure, which occur in practice.” —Practical Theology

“This is a useful read for any pastor whose church is teetering on the edge of viability…. Ministers in smaller churches, read this book. More importantly, get it in the hands of those with influence in your judicatory.” —Laura Stephens Reed, clergy and congregational coach

“Rarely have I enjoyed such a comprehensive study of ministry—and truly difficult ministry. There is no doubt that Cafferata and many of the pastors she studied were transformed from doubt and despair to resurrection by their faithfulness to following the Spirit where she blew.” Anglican Theological Review

“This book provides a candid assessment of the rough weather and the salient shoals any pastor/pilot will face in this work. I would recommend it for anyone leading congregations through major adaptive changes.”
Interpretation: A Journal of Bible and Theology

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List Price: $32.00
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