Friday, June 01, 2012

Not happy news

The minister of my church is leaving.

The reason for this is understandable: he and his wife have a special-needs child, they cannot find the kind of help they really ideally need for their child here, and he has been offered a position somewhere in a city that is much larger, and probably has more cutting edge research done on the child's particular need.

But it's sad. I think this is the fourth minister (counting the "interim" we had on two occasions only once) in the 12 years I've been here. I know, in some denominations, ministers get moved around by the church hierarchy (I think the Methodists do it that way?) and sometimes ministers only stay four or five years at a given church.

But every other Disciples church I've belonged to had relative stability....ministers staying more than 10 years, in some cases, more than 20 years.

And I anticipate difficulty calling a new minister. We are a small congregation, and money is ALWAYS a problem. I don't know if we can offer a competitive salary...especially considering that this can be a hard part of the country to attract people to.

Almost worse than their plans to leave....I mean, I will miss them, I liked them, but I completely understand their reasons for what I expect will be the reactions/comments of the other congregants. I saw this last time a minister left:

"What have we done that is so wrong that God is punishing us this way?"
"This is going to be the end of us. We'll just have to close our doors and fold." (And I admit, I worry about this too).
Or people will start talking about how they didn't really like this minister's style of preaching, or that they found  him pushy in some way, or something. And I HATE that. I understand why people do it - they are justifying the leaving, they are trying to make themselves feel better over it by saying, "It really wasn't that good of a situation after all" but I just HATE it because it feels like talking behind someone's back.

And there will be the ongoing comment of "We need to get new members, the 'right' kind of new members" (meaning: people who can pledge money to the church. I remember there was actually some criticism in the past when we got new members who didn't have a lot of money. That's just WRONG. Wrong in so many ways.) And I expect there will be an "every member needs to evangelize" thing....and I'm sorry, but that's just not one of my gifts. I can do many things but tracking down people I don't know and asking them to come to church is just not something I can do. And among my I've told people many times, either they already have a church affiliation, or they are actually hostile to the idea of religion, and I'm not going to make it less likely for them to ever come around to the idea of considering faith by being "pushy" to them.

So, I don't know. I hate this. I've been through this now three times....once, we had to search for a new minister after the congregational split. Then the person we found, as good as he was, left...again, for personal reasons. (He and his wife divorced, he felt that he could not stay in the same town, and he felt that her career was less "portable" than his, so it was best for him to leave). And now this.

(In the Disciples denomination, each congregation forms a search committee and vets potential ministers and calls the minister itself...there's not really a bishopric or anything to help or to send a minister. We have a regional ministry that can provide guidance, but most of the call is up to us.)

I will say if this does end the congregation, if we break up and disperse? I might take a couple months off from church. I've put a lot of effort and a lot of volunteer hours and a lot of contributions into this congregation...and to think of it not surviving really hurts, and also on some level feels like that nothing I could do was good enough.

And again, some of the things people say in the wake of a minister leaving? Reminds me of why Christians are so often a poor advertisement for Christ. I don't want to hear all of the handwringing and the recriminations and everything....I just want to move forward, and there are often people who want to stick back and replay everything that happened.

I suppose I'll eventually look for a new place (if it does come to pass that we break up). I don't know. I've never had to "church shop" before....try to find a new denomination that fits my faith. I've always just gone to the Disciples church in the town where I lived and that was that. I suppose the Presbyterians are the next closest group....but then again, there's an Episcopal congregation that I know a couple people in, and the rector seems to be highly thought of. The next nearest Disciples' church is an hour's round trip, and I just don't think I can do that.

I really hope I'm "borrowing trouble" on this and I won't have to think about that. But it tends to be my nature to consider the worst possible path, and plan for I HAVE a plan, so I'm ready for the worst if it happens.

1 comment:

Kate P said...

I've heard some of the same things (worries) that you said your fellow congregants said, when we are expecting a new pastor. (Ours go by assignment, though.) The other side of it is that after we get a new pastor, there's always some adjustment period that can be crazy, and you hear possibly even more criticism than you did when the previous pastor was leaving!

We've had our current pastor for nine or ten years, I think, and I keep wondering if and when our time with him will be up, because it's too good to be true. (And it would be impossible for the chapel where I go to stay open if he left, I think. DREAD.)