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Thursday, July 31, 2008

Ask the Matriarch — The One Left Standing

It's always awkward when you find out that layoffs are about to happen, and you wait anxiously while the shoes drop all over. For one of our number, this happened recently with the result being one of compassion for her laid off coworkers and inner conflicted feelings about the office which mishandled the layoffs--which happens to be an office of the church:

I work for a local Diocese Office which has had a sudden redundancy round thrust upon it. There has been an element of clumsiness and covertness which has lead to the process becoming both cruel and profoundly damaging to many who work here.

Although my position is secure, the pain and suffering of my colleagues as well as the hypocrisy of a church organization has pained me greatly. I am an anglo-catholic; the Eucharist is central to me, yet since this has occurred I have not been able to take Eucharist--it is as though each time I go to take it a veil has fallen down over it.

I know that I need to stand in support with my coworkers, which I will do, whatever happens for them in the process. Yet I have not experienced such an absence before.

We got several different perspectives this week -- first, that redundancies or layoffs often have an inherent cruelty about them no matter how they are delivered; second, there's a reason we sometimes need help forgiving those who have trespassed against us; third, that it's often worse when unfair things happen within the context of church employment than it would be in other workplaces; and fourth, that you might want to explore a more personal mode of worship to sustain you during the time you need to heal and forgive.

From RevHoney:
It must be very difficult working in your office right now. People whom you care about are being treated poorly and you want to stand in solidarity with them. I think I hear your struggle to forgive leaders for their actions in this event.

Sharing the Eucharist with the broken people with whom you work (we all are - we all fall short) can help to heal and transform your diocesan office community. Anger and the inability to forgive someone can put up powerful barriers to our feeling welcome at God's table of grace. Is it possible that your inability to forgive is what is keeping you away from the Eucharist? Have you prayed for the ability and heart to forgive the wrongs that were perpetrated?

You can forgive and still stand in solidarity with those who were hurt. Redundancies are a reality that cannot be denied, but you and others can look for ways to influence policy and action that can shape a response of faithfulness, fairness, and integrity in hard times like this.

Ann never fails to amaze me, in that no matter how late I am in sending out the question she manages to create a kaffeeklatsch out of the topic. (It's perhaps important to underscore the fact that I do not forward the questioners identity when i pass out the question.) She wound up in conversation with a so-very-wise layperson in her family, and the family member suggested that taking a break from communion might be in order, if it's possible to do so:

However, if you do take a break, I would recommend substituting some other spiritual practice to keep in the habit of regular worship (something I have not done myself, and that I regret).

Alternately, it might be worth maintaining the habit of worship during this difficult time and trying to come up with another way to mentally approach the Eucharist. There are going to be times when the ritual has more feeling of meaning than others, this may be a 'dry spell' that will pass with time. Maybe just saying a little prayer of your own acknowledging your feelings of estrangement before taking the bread and wine might infuse more meaning into the practice.

I would suggest that you find some way to act so that you can bring your feelings of betrayal and sorrow out in the open. This may be inferring too much from what is given-- but it seems that part of the reason for feeling that a veil has come down is that you feel you cannot speak freely about the situation. Find a way to speak, find a way to prevent this from happening again, find a way to make it a part of the institutional memory if you can.

Another of Ann's colleagues mentions that it's important to remember that God is not the diocese or even the Church.
I find God in community. In times like this my community shrinks to those who travel most closely with me - my small congregation or my EfM group or sometimes just a friend or two- maybe a friend who is not Christian. I can share Eucharist or coffee with those even when I am angry about the big C Church.

Ann herself is wondering whether you feel conflicted over staying in what might be an abusive system, or is it that the system has flawed people just trying to do their best in bad circumstances? Layoffs, sadly enough, sometimes have to happen, and people affected by them are going to go through a grieving process that will include anger. How many times have we said things in anger that, looking back, was just like toothpaste--something you can't get back in the tube once it's out. I have a million things I'd like to unsay to my ex-boyfriends, for instance; fortunately most of them have forgiven me or at least let it go. As Ann continues:

It is possible for you to listen and be sympathetic without getting involved. Understand that the friends are feeling terrible and will say terrible things about a place where they felt "in" and are now "out," and you do not want to get involved in that part of the conversation.You still have to work in the place and may actually have some hope for your work and the system.

Later when the time is right - there can be a conversation about fair employment practices if needed. Every side (and there are many) in this incident will have a different view of what happened and did not happen. People who lose their job go through all the stages of grief, including anger --- people who had to fire others will also have guilt and grief.

Give yourself time to mourn and whatever but do not ally yourself with any particular person - all will try to enlist you - it will do no good.

But your conscience may be the real issue here. Jan doesn't have direct experience with this issue, but has observed, as she puts it:

...that churches "let people go" with breathtaking ineptitude. What would happen if you take a stand supporting those who lost their positions? Whether it would make you vulnerable or not, you might want to take this stand for your own soul.

Blessings to you as you try to be the church with those folks. And bless you for taking it personally - as if it happened to you. The New Testament calls that splanknitzomai (compassion from the guts.)

Jan also has an observation that's somewhat aside that she'd like to make: You are doing a wonderful thing by realizing that you _are_ all part of the same family:

I'm frankly grateful that you consider your colleagues this important. This gives me hope. While collaboration and mutual support and friendship are more prevalent than not, occasionally we all come across people who consider their colleagues to be "the competition." This is a thoroughly unhealthy way to serve in ministry IMHO.

So, dear readers, has this ever happened to you, where you've been the one left standing when people you love were pushed out? Or have you ever been made redundant, as a priest or otherwise, and find yourself still in contact with those who weren't cut? How did you deal with it? Or have you ever had a crisis of conscience that kept you from participating fully in the sacraments of the church?

Give us your comments!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this post ... I found the dialogue about "letting people go" in a church context very interesting. It also struck me that there is a different "letting go" i.e. that of members who leave the church (stop coming!) which is so often unaddressed.

    For me this was very good advice(thanks!)
    "However, if you do take a break, I would recommend substituting some other spiritual practice to keep in the habit of regular worship"

    someone mentioned this blog had been closed - but it looks ok to me - so maybe the blogger "crisis" resolved itself while I was sleeping. Whatever :) I'm thankful for RevGals


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