After a member leaves the church, but continues to engage angrily with the pastor and the congregation . . . what’s a pastor to do?
Several months ago a family left our church because they couldn’t see how our church’s commitments to LGBTQ+ inclusion is faithful to the gospel. We thought they had moved on but they recently surprised us by showing up at a church function and were welcomed by our congregation. After that, one of them started posting divisive things to church members and to me on Facebook. She has also been ranting with me on email about my failures as an “unbiblical” pastor, blind copying some (or many?) members of the congregation.
There are people in the church who are close to them and are missing them and/or feeling betrayed by their attacks. The governing body is wondering what their role should be toward that family, toward me, and among the congregation. The instigator needs some support (or something) but I don’t know what I can do, or what is appropriate for me to share with her new pastor.
What should I do? And for whom? Or maybe more important, what should I not do?
The person who asked this question, is probably not going to like my answer:
There’s nothing you can do. You can’t fix this or them. The only thing that will eventually be on your ‘side’ is time.
In time, this individual/family will have dug their own hole big enough that anyone who needs to know will know that they were/are the problem. Let them bcc and email away – the more they do that, the bigger the hole they dig.
As for offering support/pastoral care – nope, can’t do that either. They don’t want it, for one; secondly if they were open to it, it has to come from somewhere else.
Church members have to save face with folks like this because they’ll run into them in other places in the community. I’m glad they were welcoming. That will bode well for the future whichever way this plays out.
I’m now eight years past very similar situations and have been very gratified with how time has made everything that happened more clear for all involved.
I’m not sure my answer will be liked any more than Kathryn‘s, in great part because I agree with her. To begin, this is not about the congregational or denominational stance on inclusiveness. This question is about bad behavior by former members of the congregation. I would block them from further comments on your personal and congregational Facebook pages. I would not engage in conversation with them. This is a losing battle and continued interaction could only exacerbate things. I would open but not respond to the emails. And by all means, if you do nothing else, document everything that has happened. The governing body needs to support their pastor and the congregation’s stance on the issue. Pastoral care and support will have to come from some other place. KJ’s right. They don’t want it from you. I don’t think it is appropriate to contact their future pastor. If that pastor contacts you with questions, use your best judgement. You might however, consider contacting your bishop/regional adjudicator if things become too heated. They can also offer you support and advice. Best wishes for what is a very difficult situation.
Thank you, Kathryn and Heidi, for offering strategies for what to do and what not to do in this sticky situation.
Have you been in a similar situation with a former parishioner? What did you do? Let us know in the comments below.
Are you dealing with a ministry situation you wish would disappear? Send your questions to AsktheMatriarch (at) gmail (dot) com and let us help you with some ideas.
Rev. Sharon M. Temple is a United Church of Christ pastor living in Austin, TX. She is a contributor to the RevGals book There’s a Woman in the Pulpit and blogs erratically at Tidings of Comfort and Joy.
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