Sunday, February 01, 2015

Changes and thoughts

The congregation I belong to has undergone an enormous amount of change in the past ten or so years.

First, the congregation split. Two factions had developed, roughly on age lines (the boomers, vs. the post-boomers. I actually sided with the post-boomers. The boomers were the ones who left....) There were also some doctrinal differences; the people who split and left were more doctrinaire and less willing to say "that's between them and God" concerning things like divorce and gay people.

We struggled. We had an interim for a while....the same interim we had before the pastor who left in the split was hired. We hired someone new. He worked for a while and then he and his wife divorced and he decided to move. Then we hired someone new who turned out probably not to be the best fit for us. Then we limped along with people coming in for single weeks. Then we had a seminary student. And he was fine at first, but....well, as someone noted, he had some authority issues, he wanted things done his way, he had a hard time compromising. This led to a lot of tension and unhappiness. And I remember one Pastoral Committee meeting (which, sigh, yes, that's another group I'm on) that got really ugly and upsetting with two people yelling at each other and I walked out of there in tears. And I admit, the last few months he was there, I fully expected we'd fold after he left....there was a lot of demoralization and I admit at times I felt like I was walking on eggshells. People wouldn't come to church. Sometimes the elders I had assigned duty didn't show up, which was upsetting - there were long strings of weeks I had to serve at the table because one or the other of the assigned people weren't there. It go so I just expected I'd have to do it....I was getting very tired.

I didn't realize how much it affected me and how upsetting it was to my psyche or subconscious. We now have another interim. This man is older, he's been through a lot, he's learned, I guess, how to work with people. He's super friendly and relentlessly positive. People have begun coming back. Every week so far, since he's been there, both of the people assigned to elder have been present, so I haven't had to fill in. People even show up for meetings when they're called.

And on the one hand, that makes me really sad: my attitude is that when a church is struggling, like when there's someone in leadership who's difficult, that's when you make an extra effort to get the work done and keep trudging forward and not leave the other people in positions of leadership hanging by not showing up for meetings or duty. But I can also understand if someone puts you on edge, you want to avoid dealing with them.

(For what it's worth, the person in question didn't really put me on edge, not other than that ugly meeting. I make it my goal in life to do my best to work with people, even with those who have difficult personalities)

But it is an enormous relief not to have that walking-on-eggshells feeling. The guy we have now will stay until we get someone permanent (and, please God, let the person we hire be someone we can all work harmoniously with).

As I said, I didn't realize how much that all affected me. Last fall was difficult; I taught an overload, I was tired all the time, and feeling like things were unsettled and uncomfortable at church (which is the closest thing I have to family here) made everything so much worse.

It's one of those times that you look back on after you came through it and you realize how beat up/depressed/tired/angry/whatever you were, but somehow you couldn't see it when you were in the middle of it. I feel more like myself again. I'm laughing at stuff again. My creativity and eagerness to work are coming back.

I just hope this is the end of the congregation's big problems for a while, at least. I want to see us grow, I especially want to see us have some kind of stability. I don't want to have to beg people to attend the women's group meetings or the elder's meetings....I don't want to feel like I'm carrying responsibility other people could carry but choose not to.

A few months ago, I was wondering, "Where will I go when we fold? Could I shift to being a Presbyterian? Could I try Methodism? Could I stand driving an hour's round trip each week to the next nearest Disciples church?"  Now I don't feel like it's so likely we will fold. Oh, we need to grow. We need new members. But we do serve an important purpose. (For example: we have several gay men as members. It's the only place in town, apparently, where they feel welcomed in a church. And you can say what you will about homosexuality, I am not going to judge people harshly for being gay. I get that a lot of doctrine opposes the action....but knowing the men I do, I can't...I don't know. I guess it's one of the things where I go "that was then, this is now." I'm not saying it very well but I feel like it's not my place to judge someone for that. Most of them are in committed relationships and are not hurting anyone.... I have bigger problems with hetero couples where one member cheats a lot on the other and hurts them, or where they get together for the wrong reasons, have kids, and then split up and leave the kids kind of adrift)

My church is important to me. It serves an absolutely necessary role in my life and it hurts me - more deeply than I realized - when my church is hurting.

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