This week’s question comes from a RevGal who is facing the challenge of being the former pastor who is not beloved by her former congregation. How will she relate to them, and should she try?
Several years ago I was fired from my last church, with no reason given and no opportunity foreclosure. The church members were told to “not speculate or ask questions, and to respect my privacy.” We are in a community that understands shunning.
I still live in the community as my husband still has a ministry here. I am a healthcare chaplain and love my new calling. My family is not welcome at the church I used to serve, though my husband has to attend some events there.
My school-aged children have friends who attend that church. I alone attend a church in another town. This week, my younger child told me the child of a church member invited him to a Halloween party. We arrived late and the kids were out trick-or-treating. The father told us where to look and invited us back for chili. After much searching we found the kids with the mom, who had been friendly before I got fired, and cold after. She was publicly cold to me tonight, but more pleasant in a later text exchange when I thanked her for letting my child join the group for the evening and apologized for not contacting her before. Our kids had played together in the park over the weekend.
I left my child with the group and went home to my older child as my husband is out of town. Now I’m feeling shunned again.
How does one live in a community where so many of the people I know are publicly cold to me; and in a place where my children are part of the community and I don’t feel that way?
My husband loves his ministry and moving is not an option at this time. I have few friends and find it hard to nurture friendships with women my age (with kids home and working full time).
Thanks, wise ones!
Several of our Matriarchs weigh in on this one:
Dear Sister in Ministry,
I will be holding you in prayer for this very painful situation you have been living in for a long time.
The circumstances of your firing sound so unethical and painful but seven years have passed and you have found a new calling and joy in your work.
Since you do not have the option to move out of the community at this time (I hope you can some day), my best advice is to find a good counselor or spiritual director to give you a safe place to work through your real and justifiable feelings as you are still being shunned by members of the former congregation.
You cannot change their behavior and cruelty but you can empower yourself to hold your head high through it.
I hope your husband has a good listening ear too!
Blessings to you,
Rev. Kelley Wehmeyer Shin
After considering your letter, my strongest hope is that you can find some one-on-one care from a pastoral coach, a respected colleague, a therapist – someone who could help you unravel some of the issues you are facing. It may not be possible to change the external factors which are impacting you without moving to a new community. Have you and your spouse discussed this deeply? Have you considered all the options and how the current situation impacts the health and well being of you, your kids and your spouse?
Twelve years ago I moved my family halfway across the country to a place they had never been. We are 1,500 miles away from our aging parents. Our daughter started over in a brand new school district at age 12. Our family economics took a significant hit, but in retrospect it was a life saving move.
Every one’s story is different, but I hope that these thoughts may be of help to you.
God’s blessings on your journey!
Heidi Rodrick-Schnaath, sometimes known as RevHRod
I haven’t been in your situation but I am familiar with the dynamics of small communities and of the complexities of running into people for whom you were once pastor. I have been in the same location a long time; people have left my church for various reasons, and I can’t avoid meeting them at the store, theater, parties, etc.
It is painful and awkward, no doubt about it. Without minimizing your discomfort, I would just say that time can be a great healer, in my experience. I have had some beautiful reconciliations with people I once crossed the street to avoid meeting. I didn’t plan or engineer these reconciliations; they just unfolded gracefully over time. I want to convey some hope to you that things will not always be as uncomfortable as they are right now.
If you can manage to keep an open mind and open heart even toward those who have hurt you, in spite of their bad behavior, you may be surprised by the healing that can happen as time passes. I consider it one of the vexing blessings of being in a community for the long haul–we humans can and do behave badly, but we can also live long enough to forgive each other and see relationships evolve.
I wonder if there are places you might work together in the community outside the church with some of those who are acting coldly, such as the food bank or a fundraising walk or a town festival? Cooperative service can also lead to healing ill feelings.
Peace be with you, Dee Eisenhauer
Eagle Harbor Congregational Church, UCC, Bainbridge Island, WA eagleharborchurch.org
Dear Shunned Reverend, what an intolerable situation! To be treated poorly but not be removed from the system inflicting poor treatment. And as untenable as it sounds for you, I am even more concerned about your children. They understand shunning as well. What are they learning about the body of Christ?
From your letter, it’s hard to know what recourse you might have with your old church. If you are still angry, and feel that you were treated unjustly, I would encourage you to pursue justice, if for no other reason then to model it for your children. If you are ready instead to let it go, I would suggest a full cut off from that church. It seems like this “Halvsie” situation may be more heat than light for your family.
Perhaps our other clergy sisters will see alternative options that I don’t see.
Ruth Everhart blogging at www.rutheverhart.com
I am so sorry that this is happening to you. I’m afraid that I do not understand being fired without cause. It all sounds unprofessional, unethical and awful.
I don’t know if it’s possible to have word travel back to the congregation, or its board of council, with a message from you. I wonder if you could write to the board, acknowledge that seven years a good biblical number) has passed, and while you do not wish to worship with your former congregation, you would ask that the “shunning” be over, and that you be treated like any member of the community in which you and your children and spouse live.
I will be adding my prayers for a peaceful resolution to this.
Wow! So much good advice and insight for our sister in ministry.
Do you have some strategies to share with her? Add your thoughts in the comments below.
Are you confounded by a ministry dilemma? We can help! Send your scenario to askthematriarch (at) gmail (dot) com.
Rev. Sharon Temple is a United Church of Christ pastor in Nashville TN. She is a contributor to the RevGals book, “There’s a Woman in the Pulpit” and blogs at Tidings of Comfort and Joy.
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