After Christmas, things began falling apart. When I returned from vacation, I found out that no lay speaker had shown up to preach that Sunday. Turns out that the individual I contacted to arrange for a lay speaker had a) not gotten my message and b) wasn't the coordinator anymore. In my confused and overwhelmed state, I had gotten names mixed up. I apologized to my PPR Chair, to my Lay Leader (who had to figure out how to manage the service when there was no preacher) and to the church as a whole. That Monday, my D.S. called and asked me to meet with him in person. I explained what had happened, apologized, and said that I had tried to make ammends with the congregation. He sensed that this was the "tip of the iceberg" so to speak, and suggested that I get together with my Lay Leader and PPR Chair. I readily agreed, and we made an action plan of sorts.
Sidenote: While I accept full responsibility for my mistakes and was genuinely sorry that I had let the church down, there were a few things that really angered/frustrated me. First, when no preacher had shown up by 11am, why didn't my Lay Leader make some sort of plan on how to handle the situation? According to her, she didn't even think of what to do until it was time for the sermon and there was no preacher. Second, why didn't anyone call me that day or the next to let me know what happened? Several people had my cell phone number. Or, at the very least, leave a message on my home phone saying to call ASAP. But I didn't hear about this until I had been home for TWO WHOLE DAYS. Third, no one really talked to me about it...even when I apologized during worship. They didn't even acknowledge my apology, accept it, or offer their forgiveness in response.
So, the action plan that the DS and I came up with had two main steps. First, that I would meet with just my PPR chair and Lay Leader and examine any issues that were brewing. Second, that I would meet with the entire PPR (outgoing and incoming classes) and allow them to raise any issues so that I could respond to them. My meeting with the PPR chair and LL went fairly well. That's when I found out that they had asked the D.S. for the exact opposite of what they received. That's also when I found out that they had had growing concerns since Spring 2007, but had squashed them and decided to see what happened when I returned from maternity leave. I also found out that many people were wondering if they (the congregation) could handle having me as their pastor through June.
What I didn't ask, and what I should have asked, was why they felt this way. I was making visits, preaching every Sunday (except that ONE week), and at least doing the basic duties of a pastor. I didn't understand why they wondered if they could last another five months. However, I should have asked them to explain. Hindsight is 20/20 and all that.
The three of us scheduled a meeting with the whole PPR. Before that meeting occurred, I experienced my first pastoral emergency since arriving at the church. (Oh, didn't I mention that things had been very quiet since I arrived? No emergencies and no deaths, therefore no funerals) Anyway, a much beloved member of the congregation had a heart attack, and the heart cath revealed major blockage. To make a long story short, he was transferred to Major Teaching Hospital about 70 miles away and underwent a triple bypass. I visited him twice in the local hospital and twice in the Big Hospital before he went home. I even drove down in snowy weather to be with his family during the bypass. They loved me, and I hoped that I was somehow redeeming myself in the eyes of the congregation. (Incidentally, when I left the church, this gentleman was very upset that I was leaving early. So were a few other people who I had visited while hospitalized or prayed with prior to surgery.)
During the big PPR meeting, several things happened. First, they requested more visitation. I agreed, and we settled on a minimum of two visits a week. Second, they complained about how unfriendly Harry was and how he wasn't involved enough. I tried to explain his personality and also challenged them to be more proactive in reaching out to him (they really hadn't shown much initiative in that area). Third, they complained that my sermons had plummented in quality. I apologized and promised to give more attention to that area. The only concern I offered was that attendance at my Bible studies was HORRIBLE. I offered four studies while at this church (one I offered twice). For the first one, I had about 6-8 people involved. For the second one, no one showed up, with the excuse being that it was "too cold outside." I offered that Bible study again in July, and one person showed up. We met twice, and then she went to Italy for vacation and we agreed to stop. She had done this study before, anyway. The fourth study was a confirmation/newcomer class of sorts. It was designed to be an overview of the Christian faith, Methodist history and doctrine, history of our church, and resources for spiritual growth. No one showed up for that study, either. I was extremely upset that time, because I had had to bring Nora (who went to everything with me, of course) out in the cold weather at night. Anyway, their response when I raised this concern at the PPR meeting was pretty unapologetic. "Oh, well, that's just not what we want", "Well, we're a small church. You can't expect large crowds", etc, etc. Sheesh. I was fairly disgusted by that.
After that meeting, I felt that we had gotten everything on the table and resolved what issues could be resolved. I felt that I was on fairly good footing with the congregation and that the worst was over. I was wrong. Very wrong. The worst was yet to come...
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