The question this week is about working with a difficult staff person:

Dear Matriarchs ~~

I am struggling with how to work with our church secretary. She is a 62 year old life-long member of our congregation of 100 members. Sometimes, we work together well. At other times, she has mood swings and loses her temper, stomping around the office and slamming down the phone when she doesn’t like what I say. She does have some health issues, but a lot of it is her personality. 

Have any of you dealt with this kind of power struggle? How do you keep the peace?

Signed,
Rev. on Pins and Needles

Our Matriarchs offer this advice:

Dear Rev. on Pins and Needles,

It is always such a difficult situation when church staff is also a member of your church. 

You are caught in the conflict of having to be both pastor and Head of Staff to this person.

If you have an existing Personnel or Staff Resource Committee, it would be best to have them work with this staff/member instead of you directly as her pastor.

Unless you feel that you can speak with her privately, reassuring her of your support and care for her as your parishioner but also able to share your concerns. I would recommend having another church member with you to hear and support both of you. Someone you both trust. 

Blessings,

Rev. Kelley Wehmeyer Shin

Some very random thoughts (using the term generously) — reinforce the good behaviour, ignore the bad; or if you can’t ignore the bad, try saying, “Imogene, I need you to be your very best self this morning, as I know you can be, and this isn’t it.” (this will not work so well if her name is “Mildred.”)(adjust).

I remember the Official Angry Matriarch in one congregation…(and she had plenty of good reasons, it wasn’t just a hobby with her)…and a graced moment when I proved by demonstration that Nobody had TAKEN the picture hanging over the electric range, it had simply slipped down behind…I said something anodyne about how I (too) always assumed nefariousness had occurred before I had the facts…and she said, “I have such dreadful thoughts…” and I said, “Well, that’s why we have absolution…” and she said, “And absolution is what I need…”  At least after that she wasn’t all alone with her dreadful thoughts!

blessings,

Crimson Rambler

I had an admin who acted just like this, except she was nowhere near to retirement age. It took six years, a lot of reviews, holding her accountable, a lot of volunteer hours with the volunteer personnel peopl, patience and prayer until she realized with gentle nudging that the job wasn’t a good fit. 

Not sure it was the most efficient, but developing policies and holding her accountable was the best way for us to go.   She had been there over 20 years.

Rev. Karla

* * * * * * * *
Thank you, Matriarchs, for some great approaches to a difficult situation.

How about you, dear reader? Can you add a suggestion or two from your experience? Leave your comments below.

Questions! We love questions! Write to us at AskTheMatriarch (at) gmail (dot) com and let us help you work through your ministry dilemma.

* * * * * * * *
Rev. Sharon M. Temple currently serves as Designated Pastor of the delightful Brookmeade Congregational Church United Church of Christ in Nashville TN.  She blogs at Tidings of Comfort and Joy and contributed an essay to There’s a Woman in the Pulpit.

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