Monday, May 19, 2008

No Se Nada

Today I’m delving into the topic that is weighing heavily on my mind lately, particularly since attending church yesterday. If my little forays into religion aren’t your cup of tea you might do well to come back another day although this is less about religion than it is about human relations that just happens to be taking place within a religious setting.

First, I want to lay out the facts that I know, some of which may or may not be related to the situation. I just want them all here to serve as the foundation for me as I roll this around in my brain. Then I intend to see what those facts tell me and see what conclusions, if any, are possible at this point in time. Finally, I want to put down the questions I have over the situation and some musings about where to go from here for myself. This is, my friends, mostly an exercise just for myself, but if anyone thinks they have something productive to offer me or a point of view that I’ve missed, please feel free to weigh in with it. I realize I may very well be looking at the situation through a narrow straw and might benefit from a wider perspective.

The Facts
Fact #1: Two weeks ago I received a letter from the church council informing me of the departure of the pastor from the congregation. The letter referred to “performance appraisal issues” and mediation that had been ongoing for some months between the church council and the pastor and indicated that an inability to reach agreement was the reason for the pastor’s departure.
Fact #2: About a month ago the office manager for the church resigned with the announcement that she was returning to work at her home church.
Fact #3: Yesterday the situation with the pastor was mentioned two times during the church service: (1) during the joys and concerns when one member of the congregation asked that the pastor and his family be held up in prayer and another asked that the congregation be held up in prayer with the request that those who were blindsided by the “resignation” of the pastor would be willing to listen and have patience, and (2) during the announcements when it was announced that meetings will be held in a couple of weeks to better inform the congregation of what has occurred and how the church will proceed forward.
Fact #4: The pastor’s wife who has also held a staff position within the church is no longer listed as a staff member in the bulletin nor was she present yesterday at the service.
Fact #5: No mention was made of the pastor’s wife in the original letter I received.
Fact #6: It was announced yesterday that a certain person will be taking on a subset of the pastor’s wife’s staff duties for at least the summer months.
Fact #7: As of yesterday, the church’s website has not been updated to reflect any staffing changes.
Fact #8: I felt more uncomfortable in that church yesterday morning than I ever have in the year I’ve been attending there. There were several times when I felt an incredible urge to jump up and bolt out of the building, not because of anything specific that happened but just the overall general discomfort I felt.

No matter how much I go over the facts above there just is not enough there for me to draw much in the way of conclusions. Certainly I could put some pieces above together and develop some speculations, but to what end? What purpose could it possibly serve for me to speculate other than to stir me up and bring me into a state of further agitation? Why should I do that? I will admit that there are speculations that have taken up far too much space in my brain as I’ve pondered the facts above, and yet without further factual information it is impossible to know which, if any, of my speculations are close to the truth of the matter. I refuse to draw conclusions based on my own ill-informed speculations. I guess the only real conclusion I have from all of this is that given what I know about myself I will not be able to determine my reaction to the situation until I know more about the situation. Oh, and one other conclusion I’ve drawn is that to announce a situation like this and then to wait a month to provide explanation of it is not good, at least for me it is not good for the longer I am left in limbo the more difficult it becomes for me to accept being there.

In no particular order, just as they pop into my head, my questions are:
Question #1: What was the basis for the pastor and church council’s disagreement?
Question #2: Why was the congregation not made aware that there was a disagreement and mediation effort under way?
Question #3: Is the resignation of the church’s office manager related to this situation, and if so, how?
Question #4: Why was the decision made to allow a month’s time to transpire between the announcement and the explanation?
Question #5: What should a congregant learn from how this was handled by the church council?
Question #6: (This one is a question that I alone can answer and can’t be answered until I have the other questions answered.) Can I stay in this church with a clear conscience?
Question #7: How does the absence of the pastor's wife tie into this? Did she resign, get fired, something else?

This will be an interesting time in the life of this church. Once I listen and hear what the church council has to say on the matter, it should become easier (I hope) for me to discern the proper course of action for myself. It would be an extraordinary shame if after only becoming an official member a few months ago that I would have to move on. However, I can only make that decision once I know as much as I can about the situation. A lack of forthcoming on the part of those directly involved will weigh heavily against my being able to stay, and my fear is that is exactly what will happen. “Trust us. We did the right thing.” That is the message I fear that I will hear. I have always been, and will always be, one who will fight for as much openness and honesty as possible. It is part of my personality that I bristle at the very notion of doing things that are not to be revealed (hence my huge internal conflict over many of my sneaky behaviors in the last couple of years).

My hope here is that, as usual, the act of putting this all down in writing will allow myself to let go of at least some of it so that I can go about my daily life without stewing over various aspects of the situation. Here it is, right here, all the thoughts that I have about it, all in one place. May God grant me the peace that will allow me to leave these thoughts here for the time being, to be picked up again when the congregational meetings are held on the issue in almost two weeks.


Bunny said...

Re the pastor's wife: My best guess would be that whatever reason for the pastor's resignation, she would not be comfortable continuing her position and/or others would not be comfortable with her continuing her position, in her husband's absence. If your denomination (or whatever) is like many, the pastor will have to leave town to find another position and she will be going with him. I wouldn't read any more into the situation than that.

I absolutely agree that the church council's choice to announce the resignation but not explain it for a month is stupid. All it does is confuse people and start the rumor mill going. Best to deal with things in a straight-forward manner from the get-go. Unless the pastor asked for some time before the situation is made public, for some reason, which may be the case if the situation is, um, "delicate." Still, it's being handled poorly. Even when our mutual friend resigned from his church, he was allowed to announce the resignation himself from the pulpit. Things went all to heck later, but he got to handle the actual resignation with dignity and make his own explanation to the congregation.

I would not read any more into the office manager's resignation without more information. But I can certainly see that it looks suspicious.

I would be unhappy with such behind-closed-door shenanigans in my church. Legally certain employee-employer relations matters must be kept private, but secrecy is no way to run any organization, particularly a church. They are only making things worse by letting out a little info at a time.

kimba said...

Yes I agree with Bunny.

My advice is to abandon the church for a month or two until they get back on track. No use buying into the politics and rumour-mongering of it all.

I personally hate the he said she said of office/workplace/community scandal - yet it is absolutely addictive.

It's important to be able to stand back and think 'what is my responsibility to this situation?'.. if there is nothing that deals directly with you - then best to let the others deal with it. You will never be privy to the whole story while this shady cover-up continues - so best to stop your own mind going into overdrive.

This is not my solution for all conflicts, of course. Above all, you go to the church to practise the religion you believe and to be part of a community you trust. That should be the motivator.

Val said...

I'm afraid I don't have any great insights, other than the observation that if you're uncomfortable, you should get the hell outta there, all puns intended!
"Part of a community you trust" -- right on Kimba!
[I did smirk an ironic little smile last week, as I sat in L's big Methodist church & saw they had THE EXACT SAME banners we have at St E; I'm sure if I suggested any comparison to *GASP* - a CATHOLIC CHURCH! - I would have offended 90% of the population in attendance]

Desmond Jones said...

Yeah, what Bunny said. . .

I wouldn't read any more into the situation with the pastor's wife than that she's gonna 'stand by her man', if I can put it that way. . .

And it is absolutely stupid to leave things hanging for a month without any kind of explanation. At the very least, people need to be reassured that things are being tended to, even in the midst of turmoil. It doesn't speak well of the leadership that they leave people confused and 'in the dark' like that - they really do need to be more proactive, at least as far as holding things together, and reassuring their people.

There's a part of me that would want to speak with the pastor, just to get some idea of what the heck is going on, since the council seems not to be too motivated/interested in telling their side. But of course, the pastor's story is just one side of the story, too. . .

I've been thru a couple of these 'breaches in leadership', and they're a monumental pain in the ass. But I've never seen the kind of lack of communication (I'm tempted to call it 'stonewalling')you're describing here. . .

C-Marie said...

And these are some of the dynamics that keep me out of the Church. Sorry...

Somewhere along the way, so much of that foundation has been cracked. The people, the ethics, the real reasons of why we should be going in the first place... it should never be a place of politics and soap opera stances.
Sorry again... can you tell I've not ahd the best experiences within? Yes - I'm bitter.

Trueself said...

Bunny - I'm trying my best not to read anything into the situation at all. I have too little to go on and simply refuse to speculate.

Kimba - I think I will not return for a bit except to attend one of the meetings where they will supposedly offer up explanations. After that, depending on how that goes, I may not be back at all.

Val - Actually the Methodists tend to be a bit less strident than many other denominations, but yes there is much disdain in some Protestant communities towards the Catholics.

Des - Thank you for your thoughts. Since I know you to be a man with strong faith community connections it is good to have your input here. I'm pretty pissed off at church leadership that their actions are making this situation much worse than I think it needs to be.

I have emailed the pastor to offer my prayers and to be available if he or his family could be helped by me in any way. I think at this point it really does not matter to me what the particulars are of what he may have done or not done as I have no stones to throw. What matters to me most is that he and his family are treated with compassion. From what little I know, it appears they have not been treated compassionately, but then I know so little it's really hard to tell.

Trueself said...

C-Marie - I think you are like many others. I believe people have screwed up church communities in ways that leaves God in tears. Only God could be gracious enough to forgive us for how messed up we are in this world.

Desmond Jones said...

But of course, there's no other raw material available for making a church than sinners. If the church were a franchise, it'd be called 'Sinners R Us'.

But really, you'd wanna hope that folks wouldn't embrace the label quite so enthusiastically. . .

A wise man I know is fond of saying, "If you find the Perfect Church, don't join it, because as soon as you do, it won't be perfect anymore. . ."

Trueself said...

Des - I would likely try attending a church called "Sinner R Us." I would at least feel comfortable that I was there with people like me, being people willing to admit their sin rather than those who act as though they have none.

And yes, it would be nice if folks didn't embrace the label quite so enthusiastically. Yes indeed.