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Thursday, September 23, 2010

Ask the Matriarch - You Can't Please Everyone...

As lovable as all of us RevGals and Pals are, there are always going to be a few who think that we just don't measure up...

A parishioner told me recently that he expected 'more' from my ministry after his father died. This is a man who has not attended church in almost a year because we have a non-white pianist...yes, that is awful and true. I told him that I struggled to know how to meet his needs since he withdrew his participation, but he had no suggestions for how I could improve. What is pastoral care, particularly to those individuals who do not like the pastor?

Chilly Fingers

This week we have responses...

...from Muthah+

Dear Chilly,
Lawdie, if I had a nickel for every time this kind of problem came up in my career, I would have been able to retire before now! You have obviously asked him how you could have been more helpful to him. Was he aware of what would have helped him deal with grief? So seldom do people really know what helps because they are not available to their own feelings. They just know that they hurt but haven’t the foggiest notion of how to address it. It isn’t so much that he doesn’t like you, he somehow has a different notion of what a pastor does than you do. And he is still hurting and doesn’t know how to get it healed.
You might get him to describe how he has been pastored before where he has felt the “more” that you have not given him. It might help you understand what his expectations are. If he is willing to explore that with you, you may have a chance to “win him back.” But given his resistance to what is happening in your parish with regards to the pianist, it is most likely that he won’t be willing to open up to you. While he may be able to deal with a woman pastor in his head, somewhere in that hurt soul of his, he is scared to allow you to touch those important places where Christ dwells. He is afraid that he is wrong, but cannot admit it to himself and certainly not to you. This is where you have to be patient and remain open to him until that time when you can again minister to his needs. Most important, do not let his rejection of you allow you to reject him. Call him every once in a while. Greet him warmly at the grocery or the post office. Joke with him every now and then if you can.
Even if you never get him to return, what you are modeling for the rest of the congregation is a way to deal with hurt that cannot be “fixed” save by the individual him/ herself. They will see that you have done all you can. That is an important witness. Also discuss it with your lay leadership and the steps you have taken to try to meet his needs.
Ministry is always a two-way street because it is a relationship. And the healing ministry is not a pill for our parishioners to take and feel better. It is a walk with one another. If parishioners are unwilling to take that journey there is not much we can do for them except wait and pray. Be diligent in your prayer for those who find fault with you or who criticize you (and I know this is damned difficult!) But ultimately you will be healed of pain of their criticism. And God always works even when we aren’t too keen on it.

...from Jennifer, who blogs at An Orientation of Heart

Dear Chilly,

I commend you for having shared your struggle with your parishioner, and for listening to his struggle. You don’t say what care you offered him, and I wonder if you and he are also tracking the care that the congregation extended to him following his dad’s death. IMHO, pastoral care is the full reach of the compassionate arms of the church, from casseroles to counsel, and certainly not all delivered by the pastor! If he has not suggestions for your improvement, is he suggesting that there are other needs of his that haven’t be addressed? Is this parishioner really saying that he doesn’t like you, or that he is uncomfortable with the music staff? Sometimes folks have issues they can’t resolve. Has this parishioner been encouraged to find the love and support of another congregation, if the one you serve does not feel like a fit? Again, pastoral care is your role, but not yours exclusively. If you don’t feel as those you and this parishoner are simpatico, I’d encourage you to find a leader in the life of your congregation who is, and who could listen and offer kindness and direction to him at a time when he is grieving.

Hope this helps!

...and from Ruth, blogging at ‘Sunday’s Coming’

First reaction – yuck! I know how this sort of response from people can lead to me having feelings of sorrow and inadequacy: I expect it’s the same for any pastor. The first thing to do is look in the mirror and say ‘this is not all down to me’.
Pastoral care needs to be the work of the whole church. Yes of course pastors are a vital part of that – but when we hear the ‘I expect more of YOU’ line we need to remember that we are only a part of the body of Christ. We do our best to love and support people – but one pastor can’t do it all. Are there others in the church who can get involved in trying to reach the people you can’t reach?

The other thing to remember is to pray for the people we can’t reach.. or can’t please...or can’t like.

We'd also like to hear...from you! Use the "Post a Comment" function to respond to Chilly Fingers or share your own story.

And know that no matter what anyone thinks, Jesus loves you very, very much!

May you live in God's amazing grace+

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  1. The matriarchs all offered excellent suggestions. I simply wanted to add that this is the sort of situation that makes me scream: a person isn't present (in all sorts of ways) with the church and then is upset when the church isn't present for him...and then even though I tell myself otherwise, and know so deep in my heart, I feel like I am the one who goofed up. So I offer prayers for you to let this pass, and commendations for having been patient and caring in listening to him!

  2. I have been in my first placement 4 years, about 2 years ago, the husband of a woman I had met a couple of times at church activities was diagnosed with cancer. when I found it [ they didn't let me know], I rang and asked if they would like a visit - no we are busy. I rang occasionally, not often, and each time the same response. sometimes I'd say, I am near you next Wednesday would it be OK if I dropped in, no we are busy. then a member of the congregation, who has known this family for years, rang to tell me the person had died, and the wife is disappointed because I didn't visit. I explained, he understood. I did call around [unannounced, which is not my normal style] a few days after the funeral with a card and a teddy bear [something a lady in the congregation makes for me] and she was fine with me. Still only see her occasionally, and I think in 4 years maybe twice in worship.
    She had received pastoral care from people in the congregation, and I had offered. Sometimes I think people don’t know what they want because their situation overwhelms them.
    Maybe there is a lay person skilled in pastoral care who has along term relationship with this person, they may be the best person to offer regular pastoral care, with you maintaining occasional contact.

    I am very good at taking people’s comments and criticism personally, and it is leading to stress and detrimental to my physical and emotional health. My supervisor is working on this with me. I have had to accept that not everything that goes wrong[or poorly or someone dislikes] in the church or someone’s failed expectations is my fault. And some of the good things that happen in the congregation, I have actually helped to happen.

    Chilly, all the best with this. I hope you find ways of discerning what criticism is true and helpful, and what is not.

  3. As Jennifer said, "pastoral care is the full reach of the compassionate arms of the church, from casseroles to counsel, and certainly not all delivered by the pastor." I have started using the term "congregational care" more and more to help educate the congregation that this is "body of Christ" ministry, not just my particular arm (or whatever) of it.

    In a similar situation this week, it became obvious once again that each person in need thinks it would be really easy for the pastor to meet that need, and it would if that person was the only thing on my agenda.

  4. I resonate with something Anonymous suggests here -- sometimes people say, "no thanks" automatically as a way of asserting a teeny tiny control over an uncontrollable situation. (I do it myself, which I guess is why I read it that way.) Sometimes (not always, mind you), it works better just to show up on the front stoop, and say, "Here I am, I just had to come and see how you're doing, what can I do/do you need/is going on?"
    Of course they can slam the door on you, but at least they can't say later, even to themselves, "she never EVEN showed up..."

  5. I too am "in trouble" right now for not visiting someone who had specifically asked me not to visit, who then died and now has friends in the church (who also told me not to visit, and who regularly did visit) who are upset that I never visited...even if she did live an hour away and even though I called when I was on my way there and was literally told to turn around and go away.

    The main thing I keep reminding myself is that "this is not about me, it's about something else." And then to continue to reach out anyway. That's all I've got (I mean, besides whole bunches of guilt and insecurity, LOL)...

  6. Oh, how familiar this all sounds! No advice, really, just commiseration. I've been criticized for not calling or visiting people who "everyone" knows are sick, but NO ONE bothered to tell me, at least not in a way that I can act on. Because, really, when I hear 5th hand the information isn't always accurate. It's a real problem.

    We print in the bulletin and in the newsletter that people who are sick or hospitalized need to call the church or have a family member do so. But it is tough. Clergy are not clairvoyant, you know?

    And I do really agree with the notion that pastoral care is the responsibility of the entire congregation.

  7. I'm with Crimson in a huge way on this one. I'd rather have someone upset with me because I showed up than because I didn't. I say that having been lovingly and pointedly confronted by a family who I had failed completely. I should have known better, but I didn't. I took the idea of "congregational care" instead of pastoral care too far. I saw a couple that I knew was hurting being surrounded and loved and cared for deeply and thoroughly (or so I thought) by their church family, so I let the church do it's work. I lifted them up verbally in prayers in worship. I asked how they were doing when I saw them in the building throughout the week. I didn't go to their home or ask to visit with them specifically, though, because they never asked and I thought they had wonderful care. They did.

    But they wanted and needed more. They expected me, the pastor, the embodiment of the church to make a special trip. I was a little annoyed at first, but over time I have realized they are right. I should have been there. The care a congregation gives is important and just as necessary, but it doesn't replace the care from a pastor, too.

    It took me a while to get over their critique which sounds like it was delivered MUCH BETTER than the one that Chilly received, and also notably from very active and engaged members of the congregation. This was a huge learning moment for me, and it pointed out a huge growth area for me that that has taken a few years to really work on effectively.

    All that said, it's not something to beat yourself up over. You live and learn. A quick unannounced (for those who might not be receptive) stop at deaths or illnesses or other major event can go a long way. I've also found it can open the door to a deeper connection.

    Sometimes if I sense someone is being hesitant about a visit when I call I head, I take the "ask" out of it. Instead of "Can I come and visit?" which can be easily answered with a "no" I've moved to "I'd like to come visit and pray with you..." Then I throw out a date and time. They can still say no, but somehow it just works better. I'm a little more persistent than I used to be, which is ordinarily out of my comfort zone. However, I have also been discovering the blessing of these pastoral contacts, that I didn't know existed.

    Ultimately, whether we agree with their beliefs or not, for some folks if the pastor doesn't come visit, the church didn't care. It rubs me the wrong way, but in the middle of a loss or crisis, it doesn't matter what I believe about the role of the church; I need to get there and be the pastor.

  8. I'd really like a church to cater to me too but alas it doesn't always work that way. There are always granola (fruits, flakes, and nuts) that need to be tended to. The trick I've discovered is to find people to tend to them if for some reason we are unable. That may or may not apply here but sometimes I'm unable to provide pastoral care as well as someone else in the congregation. I know that Pastors don't always like to delegate this area of ministry but sometimes its the most pastoral thing you can do.

  9. I recently had to pick something up from a member's home and when I got there she had a whole list of pastor care needs she felt I should be attending to. Some were fair enough, maybe I should go and call on the elderly grumpy never-going-to-attend-church husband of one of my members and no I am not opposed to praying for our members who are in prison but I want their permission first.

    But one of the things on her list just made me shake my head. I apparently should be visiting this elderly woman who lives in nursing home (she thinks in the town nearby but doesn't know exactly where). She doesn't know the woman's first name or the name of her daughter who would also need to be contacted because the woman in question only speaks German and I would need the daughter to translate. But the woman is really old and rich and so even though she isn't a member and never has been I should be visiting her.

    I will look into everything else but this one think I just have to let it go until she gives me a bit more to go on.

  10. Lots and lots of good reflections on Chilly's question, but the thing that leapt out at me was that this perhaps has only a small bit to do with pastoral care around the death of the father and everything to do with the non-white pianist. My guess is that he "expected more" from his church than to change in this way.

    Church is often the receptacle for all kinds of conscious and unconscious ideas about how things “should” be, and it is often an individual’s last bastion of consistency and link to the past and cherished traditions, however “awful” we may find them, in a scary and rapidly changing world. Coupled perhaps with having a woman pastor for the first time (?) who hired the non-white pianist (?) I imagine that this man was grieving his past long before the death of his father.

    These types of grieving are complex and require patience and time wherein, prayer and the workings of the Holy Spirit can be invaluable aids. Very, very hard not to take this personally, but to prayerfully and attentively wait for the invitation of the Spirit into this man’s life and healing journey at another time and place, and to recognize that if not yours then the invitation might be to another, or it might never come at all because he is unable to open himself to the Spirit’s healing being offered.

    Take good care.

  11. Thanks, Anonymous, for reminding me about the sense of loss which I think cripples our churches if we're not careful. The decline of Christendom in the West is a very real grief to many of our folks, and sometimes THAT is what we need to pastor to.

    And Chilli - I hope you know that you are surrounded by the love of our gracious God, who never lets us down.


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