12 January 2010
Community and Trust
We got to play a little bit this past weekend. Our congregation put on a Madrigal Dinner and I played a small role, while Beloved, as Youth and Family Ministry Director, waited tables with a bunch of her kids and generally worked behind the scenes (she's not the artsy type, so this was her choice - she could have been singing if she'd wanted).
It's a rough time for us and our congregation right now. Projected giving for 2010 is significantly below the projected budget, and it's looking more and more as if Beloved's call will be reduced to half-time or even cut altogether if the pledges continue to be so small. For the weekend, at least, that issue got put aside as we sang, ate together and enjoyed each other's company.
Unfortunately, this financial pinch is revealing some of the less-than-lovely aspects of living in a congregation. Tension has been high and, in an interim situation, the natives are restless. People's kingdoms are being threatened and Beloved has caught some blowback. Seeing the uglier side of a congregation we deeply love is not an especially enjoyable experience. We've had far too many conversations lately figuring out how Beloved can continue to work in a place where it seems as if every other week revolves around managing another set of unspoken expectations that didn't get met.
The thought occurred to us last night that the money isn't the issue. Money is remarkably impersonal, after all - you either have it or you don't, and it isn't money that's making the present situation so wretchedly uncomfortable for Beloved and me. The conflict isn't the core problem, either - conflict is going to happen in all sorts of ways in every part of our lives. What really hurts, what really causes us to wonder if it's time to find a new church home, is the broken trust, the sense that, no matter what Beloved says or does, someone is going to use it as ammunition against her. It's personal, it's unhealthy, and it is taking up far too much of our emotional energy over the past month.
No professional church leader expects carte blanche loyalty in every situation - at least, those of us who don't want personality cults don't. But there has to be a base level of trust for pastors and lay leaders to function effectively. In the healthiest communities, leaders are encouraged to be bold, visionary, to challenge members of the community to step beyond comfort zones and, most importantly, to feel as though mistakes will be addressed privately, compassionately and with the goal of strengthening the community foremost in mind. No community ever gets this completely right, but with grace and humility healthy communities can weather trying times and find themselves better for having faced the storm together. At the present time in our congregation, the storm is threatening, and it's hard to know if we can weather it together. Pray for us, and for our church, please.
Grace & peace,