Friday, February 6, 2009

Part 6: All Hell Breaks Loose

For about two weeks after that PPR meeting, things were pretty calm. I kept my nose clean, did visits, preached sermons, and went about my daily life.

The week of Ash Wednesday, began badly and progressed to disastrous. First, I came down with a severe Upper Respiratory Infection, complete with fever, congestion, fatigue, and aches. It wasn't severe enough to be the flu, but it wasn't mild enough to be a cold, either. By Tuesday afternoon, I was still sick enough that I decided to cancel the Ash Wednesday service. I sent out an e-mail, made several calls, and placed signs on the church doors explaining what was going on. Second, my older dog, Woody, started acting weird and the vet diagnosed him with a kidney infection. He spent a night at the vet's and came home with medicine and special food. After a day or two, he seemed to be feeling fine, but he was not eating much. Third, my mother called me on Friday to tell me that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. The doctors thought it was only stage 2, but they wouldn't know until an MRI and lymph node biopsy late the next week. That news (and the fear that they'd find metastasis and extensive lymph node involvement) shook me to the core. (By the way, they didn't find any metastasis and the lymph node involvement was minimal. Mom has been cancer-free since June 2008, and finished treatment in September 2008.) It was the sort of thing that necessitated a trip to Food Lion and the making of brownie sundaes. I might also have drunk something from our liquor cabinet.
Fourth, on Saturday Woody was clearly not feeling well, and by the afternoon he was experiencing a racing hearbeat and rapid breathing. We drove to the nearest Animal Emergency Room about an hour away, and he went into shock and died about a half hour after we arrived. The official cause of death was "cardio-pulmonary failure" but we're still not entirely sure what happened.

As you might imagine, this was the straw that broke the camel's back. I was feeling better (physically) and while I was very worried about my mom, she was alive and would hopefully be fine in the long run. But having Woody die at 6:45 on a Saturday night, 24 hours after learning my mom had cancer, was too much. Woody had been our "first baby" and had been with us for over four years. We treated him (and our other dog, Simon) like children. He was only eight years old, in excellent health, and we had expected to have him with us for at least another 2-4 years. Holding him and watching him die was one of the worst experiences of my life. I was beside myself, and I KNEW that I would have nothing to offer my congregation the next day. I also knew that I would receive little emotional support from them, if experience was any indication. So, I arranged for a lay speaker to come the next morning, and then called my PPR chair. She gave me major grief about not preaching the next morning and threw some nice guilt trips my way ("Rev. Former Pastor found out that her father had died four hours before church, but she still came to church that morning."), but I stood firm. I needed to take the next day off, and my family (Harry, Nora, and Simon) needed me more than the church did.

Two weeks later I announced to the entire church that I would be leaving in June. With my PPR chair's knowledge and blessing, I headed out of town for a quick visit with my parents (who lived about four hours from where we were, and less than half an hour from where Harry was working). We arrived Sunday evening and Nora and I returned on Tuesday afternoon. While I was there, my PPR chair called me to request a walk-through of the parsonage later that week. I agreed, knowing that the parsonage was in fairly good shape and that my cleaning lady would have been there before the walk-through.

The walk-through was scheduled for Thursday night. I spent the day working on sermon stuff and whatnot, and picked Nora up from daycare around 5:00. I fed her dinner, spent time picking up the house a little, and finally settled down to feed myself. I had hoped to take another five minutes to finish tidying, but my PPR chair arrived fifteen minutes early, while I was still finishing my dinner. When the others arrived a few minutes later, it was my Trustee chair, Lay Leader, and Parsonage Committee chair. I led them through the house, pointing out things that needed repair, the condition of church-owned furniture, etc. Last year's walk-through had been a total breeze, and I wasn't expecting anything else from this one. However, they began pointing out little things (a few scratches on the hardwood floors, scuff marks on the walls, mold in the bathroom, and some scratches on the front door frame) and making unhappy noises. They made it very clear that they thought we hadn't taken the best care of the house. I was surprised, because I thought we had taken excellent care of the house, and most of what they were upset about had to do with either wear and tear or neglect on their part. I made a mental note to talk to the district office about that, and decided that there was no point in fretting about it. I did offer to have a few things (any scratches, for example) repaired at our expense. I also said that we would have the upolstery and rugs shampooed when we left.

A week later, I got a call from my D.S., who said that the church was livid about the condition of the parsonage, and were even talking about me leaving the church early. Huh? I described the walk-through and told him what they had mentioned to me. He said that he was meeting with the PPR on Sunday and invited me to attend so we could get things on the table and hopefully resolve things.

I was furious, because we had made sure to keep the parsonage in good condition. It was throroughly cleaned on a regular basis, we made sure to mention any needed repairs to the Trustees (most of which took months to be completed, and some not done at all) and even Cloroxed the bathroom walls in a (largely unsuccessful) attempt to eradicate the mold growth. We had hooked up our own washer and dryer to reduce wear and tear on the (ancient) ones owned by the church. The church-owned furniture (which had been brand new when we moved in) was still in mint condition. We did our best to prevent our dogs from getting on the church's sofa, and it looked as nice as it had two years earlier. I spoke with a few clergy friends, and they affirmed my sense that this was not just about the parsonage; some people in the church wanted me to leave ASAP. I wanted to leave, but I felt that it would hurt the congregation as a whole and really didn't see what good it would do, anyway. I dug in my heels and decided that I would not give in to these people.

(and I didn't...although I did leave two months later, it was totally my decision.)

Click here to read the next part.

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