You’re right—this sounds like a very difficult situation. Are the two who visited with you people you trust, and are they perceived by the congregation as trustworthy? (I’m asking if their comments are unique to them, or if they’re folks you would expect would represent the general feeling of most folks.)
Second, are there safe places in your congregation and your higher governing body to air concerns and receive support? A well-constructed pastor-parish relations or personnel committee can be really helpful, especially if there are expectations, as you say, that are high, but unarticulated. You shouldn’t have to guess or wonder—those expectations should be clear and measurable.
If you have a higher governing body ministerial relations committee or committee on ministry liaison, they, too, can provide a sounding board, and a wider perspective on your ministry and the congregation’s personality as a whole. Even a local colleague in ministry—maybe even another clergywoman, who has been in ministry for a little while, could provide you with some perspective and support. It’s so hard to sort out what’s constructive from what’s just snarkiness, and help in discerning that cannot be overrated.
It sounds like there’s some anxiety in your congregation’s midst about the recent actions of the ELCA. Is there a place and time for your congregation members to talk about what they’re learning and feeling? Would it be helpful to air some of that, apart from these two individuals’ comments about your leadership?
May you find peace and confidence as you pursue help in calming anxious folks.
Earthchick, who blogs at http://www.earthchicknits.
Does your congregation have a Pastor Relations Committee in place? If not, I would recommend working to put one together as soon as possible. I am betting that the ELCA has some resources to guide you and your congregation in the formation of such a committee. A PRC should be a small (ours is 3 members) group of people that both you and the congregation trust. The PRC should help facilitate communication between the congregation and the pastor - church members can bring concerns about the pastor to the PRC, and the pastor can also voice concerns about the congregation to the PRC. You could be honest with them about some of what you have said here: "I am a brand-new pastor and am unclear about what is expected of me. I feel like I am doing my best, but I am getting negative feedback without suggestions for how to improve. Could you help me figure out how to deal with this feedback?"
You could probably find more information about developing this sort of committee from your denominational offices, but http://www.mmbb.org/
In the meantime, hang in there. Try not to be reactive or overly anxious. If more people approach you with similar feedback, consider asking them if they could be more specific about what they'd like you to do. Then decide for yourself whether their specific thoughts are reasonable. Talk to a mentor. Talk to a judicatory supervisor. Develop as much support as you can beyond the congregation. Keep saying your prayers for the people you serve and for your own ministry.
And from Mompriest, who blogs at http://seekingauthenticvoice.
Finally, I (revhoney) am wondering if you are involved in a First Call Theological Education experience in your synod or region? Are you assigned a mentor with whom you are comfortable discussing these issues?
Do you have some insights or words of support for this new pastor? Please share them in the comment section following this post.
And, as we are down to one question in the queue, now is a great time to submit your question to Ask the Matriarch at email@example.com
May you live in God's amazing grace+