This morning's question came to us as more of a narrative, and in two parts over a few days. Our ministry leader has an unhappy congregation member who happens to be very good at both triangulation and avoidance, two of those games people play!
The initial setting: A gathering for soup and Lenten Study.
The players: B. is a member of the church. She is on the shut-in communion list, but is not in the least homebound. We celebrated communion in December and I met her for the first time. She has not attended Sunday worship since I have been here (3 months). She has been "dating" a man from this small community (for at least a year) while his wife was in a nursing home. The wife has since died. Both were present Wednesday. I sat beside B. and gave her the space to introduce J. if she wanted to. While I did not directly engage her in conversation, the group at the table had conversation.
Today, I hear she is upset with me because I did not speak to her and thought I was unfriendly to J. She has not contacted me directly, but has voiced her concern to several other people, who have let me know.
My gut instinct is to call her and tell her there was no ill will on my part and that I hope she continues to come to the Lenten Study.
Our ministry leader did in fact contact B. Here is the gist of the conversation.
Me: I am sorry if my actions on Wednesday evening hurt your or J. in any way. That certainly was not my intent.
B: Oh, I am not upset with you.
Me: I know a bit about your relationship with J. from our time together in December, however I wanted to provide you with the space you needed to introduce him...or not. (I offered that hoping she would understand that while we could of been more hospitable...there was a part she played in this as well).
B: I was a little hurt that the men who attended that night did not come up and talk to J.
Me: That must of been painful.
B: I just thought they would...he is members in one of the service organizations as are several of the men present. You know this could of been a potential member, but now I am not so sure. I feel very welcomed at J's church.
Me: I cannot speak for others, but please know that I am sorry for what has happened.
B: Thank you.
Me: I hope you will join us again this Wednesday and in the future if anything like this happens, please do not hesitate to contact me directly.
Here are some questions our ministry leader presents in light of these events...
-in a perfect world B. would of come directly to me without involving others. I am aware of triangulation, but I also did want this to "fester" any longer.
-could it of "worked" if those she complained to had said something like, "I understand your hurt, but you really need to address the pastor with this personally." Or offer to come with B. to see me.
-here is where I see it breaking down: B. does not take the invitation and continues to stew in her own anger...causing more distress...and the vicious cycle repeats itself.
Two of our matriarchs responded to our ministry leader's query:
From Mompriest, who blogs at Seeking Authentic Voice
I think "Me" has done the exact right thing - contacting "B" and having the discussion they had. In that conversation "B" revealed a lot with her "loaded" statments, examples of how easily she is "wounded" and how little she takes healthy initiative and falls back on blaming others (ie now, faced with a direct conversation with "Me" it wasn't "Me" who ignored and upset "B" but the "men."). Such people are seldom ever satisfied with how they are treated and can become chronic problems in congregations.
I suggest "Me" follow up with those who told her that "B" was upset and give them a briefing on the coversation. It is important that these people know that "Me" took the initiative to call and apologize for the hurt feelings (note, I do not say, for what she did, but for the hurt feelings)...but also that "B" denied being upset with "Me" and instead said she was upset with the men who knew "J". This will need to be worded without emotion or judgment, just report the conversation. The hope is folks will realize that there is no reason for the congregation to get too worked up about anything "B" says regarding her peceived "hurts".
By the same token it's always important to be mindful of hospitality and having a generous welcoming spirit. Also, it's a good idea to remind folks that the next time "B" or anyone triangulates another they need to be reminded of healthy communication.
There are a number of good articles on the Alban Institute website. Click on the link for Conversation, then Enewsletter, then archive. Permission can be gained to reprint these in congregational newlestters and as handouts for leadership teams. Also good is Peter Steinke's book, "Healthy Congregations." Blessings and best wishes for you.
And from Sue, who blogs at Inner Dorothy,
I have little to zero patience with parishioners who are grown adult human beings, yet when faced with church dynamics, suddenly start playing out a classic toddler tantrum in slow motion. I just have no time for it. The drama queens and kings of our churches set dramatic inter-personal fires that keep us from doing real ministry in our communities. I don't know if it's about needing attention, or needing power over another person (which happens when people feel powerless in other parts of their lives), or if it's just plain old curmudgeonly behaviour - but I do know that it's a pastor's biggest time suck.
Putting out these little fires is exhausting and takes away from the church's ministry in so many ways. An example: new members catch on to these dynamics and their first thought is "What a bunch of hypocrites - talking about the love of God while they treat each other so poorly." We had a lovely family attending for about a year, after which time they decided they had to leave. They invited me over to say it had nothing to do with my ministry and everything to do with the personal dramas and fights within the congregation. This family just could not reconcile scripture with the nasty crap going on in the church (ours and others in our city), so they stopped attending. Now they don't attend any church at all. It's sad, but it was a rare occasion in which a family left the church without feeling angry - just disappointed.
While this may seem like a fairly small incident, the potential for it to grow is clearly present - because the disgruntled member wants it that way. I would give it some time and call to arrange a visit. I would NOT apologize for anything said or unsaid at the dinnner. You did nothing wrong. There were plenty of people at the event. You cannot possibly know who you need to pay "extra" attention to - you do not have mind-reading capacities. You attended, you engaged in conversation with people, all of which is appropriate. If someone feels slighted - tough. If they felt a particular need to speak with you that night, it was their responsibility to approach you - not the other way around. Again - none of us were taught clairvoyance in seminary. Why parishioners believe we know what's in their heads is just beyond me.
(After reading our ministry leader's follow-up, Sue adds...) I would not have apologized. It would have been enough to empathize. Also, her first words to you were untrue, which is really unfair to you. Serious triangulation going on....This sounds like a woman who is looking for a reason to leave and go to J's church. Also, if J wanted to talk to the gentlemen he knew from his other service groups, why didn't he go and talk to them??? ARGH. Like I said, tantrum in slow-motion.
You have done all you can do and you have acted with grace and concern. If B still decides to leave, at least she will be attending somewhere else where her spirit can be fed. I sometimes think people don't always know how to leave as gracefully and honestly as the family I mentioned above did. Please know that if she does leave, it is not your fault - it is her decision. It is what it is. Just know that you have done all you can do and carry on with your ministry. You're doing just fine.
I think all of us have had at least one of these episodes in our contexts. We'd love to hear how you deal with them, what resources have been helpful, and any encouragement you have for our ministry leader. Please use the "Post a Comment" function to add your two cents to the conversation.
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
May you live in God's amazing grace+