In December, 1716 the well-ordered household of Susannah Wesley was disturbed by a poltergeist, and the family endured the rowdy activity of the phenomenon. John Wesley, later to found the Methodist movement, was away at school, but his rector father, Samuel, entered into fervent combat with the spirit visitant.
On one occasion Samuel Wesley invited the ghost to confront him in the study, but on arriving at the meeting place found him self unable to open the door which was firmly held from within. And Epworth Rectory was the scene of such ghostly disorder on a near-nightly basis for almost six months.
Ghosts of this type in the rectory, or parsonage, are not common, but there is a kind of "familiar spirit" not above "peeping and muttering" with which the pastor must often deal. The "ghost of pastors past" stalks the corridors of many a pastorate generating noisy phenomena worthy of a poltergeist.
He shows himself in well-worn phrases often prefaced by either "Our previous pastor" or "Pastor Former always . . ." The sentences or paragraphs which follow that introduction are so varied that at every charge the minister meets a new selection.
Dealing with a "persistent spirit" of this type calls for spiritual courage beyond the ordinary. Samuel Wesley certainly spared no effort to rid his rectory of its noisy visitant; by prayer and persistence the good man finally saw his family able to lie down at night in peace.
Only the most sensitive, insecure worker becomes disturbed when an earnest member recalls those glorious days in the district when "Elder Blank was here." We must remember that whatever worker follows us will hear our names in similar settings. We would not wish our people to forget the past, for "we have nothing to fear for the future, except as we shall forget the way the Lord has led us, and His teaching in our past history." Life Sketches, p. 196. A quiet, sincere remark by the incumbent pastor to the effect that the Lord had in deed blessed Brother Blank should encourage the constituent and put the "ghost" to rest.
But how does one deal with the former pastor who frequently returns to the district, visiting in the homes of the members? These roving spirits are only a little more disruptive in church management than the ghostly hand that writes! Many a pastor, laboring as he must in his own armor, has had to carry a heavier burden because his predecessor continues a stream of correspondence with the "beloved brethren."
Samuel Wesley enlisted the bishop's help in exorcising "Old Jeffry," as the family came to call their rectory ghost. Should an Adventist pastor troubled by a reappearing predecessor be as decisive? A ministerial ghost may demand attention from the conference president, but this should be the very rare exception.
Every departing pastor leaves behind a host of friends some grieving, some relieved. He may visit and he may write, but he must be ethical in that he refrains from comment on the methods and manners of his successor.
The apostle Paul, who moved more frequently than we do, dealt as a former pastor with the parsonage ghost. He wrote to the church at Corinth: "After all, what is Apollos? What is Paul? We are simply God's agents in bringing you to the faith. Each of us performed the task which the Lord allotted to him: I planted the seed, and Apollos watered it; but God made it grow" (1 Cor. 3:5-7, N.E.B.).*
The Seventh-day Adventist pastor, whether current and dealing with the memory of a predecessor, or past and referring to a successor, must be above unethical behavior of any kind. After all, who wants to behave like "Old Jeffry" the rectory ghost?
* From The New English Bible. © The Delegates of the Oxford University Press and the Syndics of the Cambridge University Press 1970. Reprinted by permission.