Monday, January 6, 2014

There and…Back Again?

So, there's good news and…then there's stuff that I need to get off my chest and process.

The good news: overall, ministry with my two churches is going very well. We had a difficult season in terms of pastoral care: I had 11 funerals from September 2012 to April 2013, then a series for pastoral emergencies, then a couple more funerals. I think this has helped us "bond" to a certain extent, and I have heard rave reviews about my pastoral care and skills in leading funerals. In the midst of all this, there is an increased initiative for ministry on the part of each congregation, we are beginning to get some new visitors and increased worship attendance, and the finances in my larger church are beginning to look up…slowly but surely.

I submitted all my materials for ordination as an elder in full connection, and have my interviews scheduled for January 27. Completing that step was a huge victory. There is a 50-60% chance that I will be "continued" (that they will tell me that I need to improve in one or more areas, and resubmit materials in those areas), but there's not much that I can do except pray and prepare for the interviews.

And then there's the stuff I need to get off my chest…

My larger church appears to have a pattern of passive-aggressive behavior in which they bury or ignore issues until it all blows up, and either PPRC (Pastor-Parish Relations Committee) asks the pastor to move or the pastor gets fed up with it and moves. Since I arrived 18 months ago, I have been very intentional about encouraging open and honest conversation. I have met with leaders, I have asked for feedback, I have asked questions when something didn't seem right, and I met with the PPRC monthly for my first eight months. All I heard was "everything is great! You're great!" In March, I got totally blindsided by a) my PPR chair wanting us to have the evaluation at that meeting, instead of the next month, as planned, b) the PPR unanimously voting to move to quarterly meetings, and c) a bunch of constructive criticism that, while welcome and helpful, I had not heard before then. When I tried to dialogue with my PPR Chair about it, she resigned. At the past three PPR meetings, I have been blindsided by mostly petty things that have been brought up. At each of these meetings, I have listened, tried to reflect feelings, and reiterated my desire for a) people in the congregation to approach me with any concerns and b) members of the PPR to share with me any concerns they hear BEFORE a meeting. For six months, I offered something called "Pastor's Office Hours", where I was at a local cafe for a specific day and specific time period once or twice a week, and invited people to come and talk to me. In all that time, I had about 4 people come: most of the time, I sat alone and worked on my laptop.

At our last meeting, a number of petty things were brought up (none of which had to do with my job performance) that not only had I not heard anything about, but neither my new PPR chair (who is very supportive) nor my Lay Leader had heard, either. Reading between the lines, it seems like there is a generational rift going on (the vast majority of my leaders are over 60; I am 37) and well as a difference in understanding the role of the pastor (I get the sense that they think they "own" me and want me to be available for them on their terms). I have put both my office phone AND cell phone AND e-mail in the bulletin since I arrived. I hardly ever get phone calls. The few times someone has offered me constructive criticism, I have listened to them and often taken that advice to heart. My frustration stems from the reality that my congregation appears to not know how to deal with conflict in healthy ways.

Thankfully, my DS is supportive, and are my PPR Chair and Lay Leader. At our PPR meeting this week, we are going to introduce and vote on an official process for addressing complaints and concerns in regards to the pastor and paid staff that requires people to either approach me directly OR write their concern down, sign, and date it. I am also doing a sermon series on the hard sayings on Jesus…and the first passage I'm preaching on is Matthew 18, where Jesus tells us to work things out ourselves.

I feel at peace…I have a therapist...I am praying and reading lots of Peter Steinke and Edwin Friedman…I have a strong support system…but in my darker moments, I find myself lost in self-doubt and shame. It seems like my experience with my first appointment is happening all over again…despite my best efforts to prevent it. What I wrestle with the most is figuring out where "their stuff" ends and "my stuff" begins…is there something about who I am and the way I conduct myself that communicates to people that I am fragile, that I am not open to feedback, that I am unavailable to them? How do I figure this out, if my congregation members (who see me more often than my DS or my colleagues), can't or won't communicate honestly with me?

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