mg6DJo4This week’s question for our RevGal Matriarchs is about a congregational matriarch.

Dear Matriarchs:
In my small, aging (worship around 60 people) PCUSA congregation there are basically 2 matriarchs. One of them is enlarging her territory and I’d like ideas on how to limit her.

She is already clerk of the session, moderates mission committee, oversees the library, serves on Christian Ed, teaches Sunday school, took over VBS, chairs the big church fundraising Bazaar, preaches occasionally and now has taken a step from teaching a segment into leadership in our monthly after school children’s ministry.

As part of her librarian duties, she was expanding the library into the traditional youth room, without discussion or without a plan. But I did stop that, which she wasn’t happy about but it’s hard to argue with tradition.

No one says no to her, she is an excellent organizer (doing most every thing rather than delegating), and while others complain about her “doing too much” they turn to her to do whatever or don’t step up themselves.

As I write this, I’m wondering if they are so happy with her, maybe I should just let this be, Should I be concerned about her ever-expanding role?
Thoughts?

Heidi Rodrick-Schnaath
My first response is: Have you asked her if she feels overwhelmed? Before taking any steps to rein her in, it might be helpful to see if there is anything she wants to release from her care. It’s a long shot, but it would be my first step.

Sharon Mack Temple
You can find out a lot of what’s behind this and what approach to take by getting to know her in a conversation that is not all about her role in the church.

I have found that these dear “I’ve got this (and this and all of that)” kind of folks love the church. They are feeling some grief that “their” church is not what it used to be. I have not experienced them as power hungry as much as hungry for the church to be what they think church should be. As such, I have found it helpful to cultivate them as valued assets.

That said, more than once in my ministry, this “do it all” person unexpectedly got sick, moved, died, or otherwise was suddenly unable to keep all the plates spinning. That can undo what she is working so hard to keep going.

Can you help her identify a helper who can partner with her and learn the ropes? You might know of those who might be gifted in one or more of those areas. I hope you can help her understand that, for these ministries to continue, she can help set things up to run long after she can’t do it anymore.

Martha Spong
One of the things I learned in both coach training and community organizing training is to try not to assume what people care about and why they do what they do. That was a hard lesson for me because I like to think my intuition is always right! I have been working for several years now to cultivate curiosity and ask open-ended questions in conversations with others. Sometimes their answers affirm my intuition, and sometimes they offer up a feeling, an insight, or a suggestion I would never have imagined coming from them. Try starting with an open-ended question about the church. “What is most important to you about Old First Reformed?” or “What is something you love about Old First Reformed?” Listen for what she values and for common ground with your values and hopes for the congregation. You may be surprised by what matters to her and will be giving yourself a chance to deepen connection rather than trying to address the situation with technical changes.

Thank you, Matriarchs!

Do our readers have any other ideas for this pastor? Offer your strategies in the comments below.

Would you like to see the opportunities in your own ministry challenge? Send your scenario to askthematriarch (at) gmail (dot) com and we will support you through it.


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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One thought on “Ask the Matriarch: Pastoring the Church Matriarch

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