I think I mentioned in an earlier post that my church was having some controversy over our current pastor. Well, things have finally come to a head and our minister is leaving. It's an unfortunate situation, and there is plenty of fault to go around. Several observations come to mind:
The job of a pastor (or priest, rector, minister) is a hard one. You have a lot of different people to please and it's almost impossible to keep everybody happy. (In fact, if you're not ruffling a few feathers, maybe you're not doing your job right.) Every congregation is different and some people might be a great match for one congregation and not for another. Whether the decision is made by one person like a bishop or by a committee from the congregation, it is a very important decision and one that needs serious thought and deliberation. One of our problems was that I think we rushed into the decision too quickly. I understand that we also got some pressure to call this person from our presbytery since he was one of the first graduates from a program they had started to encourage second career pastors. I think he's a good man, but I could tell from the beginning that he was very different from what most people expected and I wondered if he would be a good fit. Time has shown that he wasn't.
The job of pastor's spouse may be even harder. Quite unfairly, most people view the minister's wife as an unpaid member of the staff. If the spouse has a great personality and the patience of Job, she can be a great asset to the minister. However, if she has a prickly personality and not a lot of desire to spend all her free time at church functions, people will grumble. When you've already got people complaining about the pastor, the last thing you need is a lot of griping about his spouse. All theological arguments about celibacy aside, at least in a Catholic church, you don't get people complaining about the priest's wife.
The process leading to the decision for us to part ways went better than I expected. I grew up in the United Methodist Church. As expressed in this blog, I have some interest in Catholicism. I like the idea of a bishop ultimately being able to make a decision in a case like this. I was very skeptical going in of the process we went through. The Committee on Ministry of our presbytery sent "listening teams" to our church. People signed up for times to speak with them about the life of our church and our strengths and weaknesses. They then produced a report for our Session. (The committee of Elders that governs the church for you non-Presbyterians.) I bet my wife (who is on the Session) a nice dinner out that all we would get from them was some sort of touchy-feely report saying some of you like him and some of you don't and you should just try to get along.
Well, I owe her a meal. The report was a detailed and candid assessment of where we were and how we got there. Beyond the question of how the minister was doing, it offered a pretty realistic picture of our strengths and weaknesses as a congregation. Most surprisingly to me, it came right out and recommended that the situation between the minister and the majority of the congregation was beyond the hope of repair and that we should part ways. They offered to help to negotiate a severance package. There are many thing about the Presbyterian Church that drive me crazy, but this went better than I expected. I'd be interested in knowing how such disputes are handled in other denominations.
Anyway, prayers are needed for our our minister as he discerns his future and for my church as we embark on a time of uncertainty as we search for another pastor. Keep all of us in your prayers.