What is our responsibility to those who have absented themselves from the congregation, but have not removed their membership? That's the question one of our Revgals is mulling over this week...
I have been serving my church for almost 7 years. And, a few years ago, we went through a really painful split. A few of our long-term members left and will not be back until I go...if then. It was awful at the time, but the church survived and we are healthy now. As for the members who left, most are going to other churches (though they have said they will never 'officially' move their membership). My question is this: what is my pastoral responsibility if there is an emergency or a crisis? If they had simply 'faded away' from church, that would be one thing. But, they left angry and acting very hateful, and they have continued to be angry and hateful to church members who have seen them since the hubbub. I'm not sure what my response should be if they have a medical emergency.
Often in our ministry, we face issues like this. When we arrive in the parish, our presence (it is not about us) brings issues in the parish to a head. The persons who left, left for a reason. You are most likely NOT the reason. The reasons are within the congregation and probably have been for years. The new pastor just becomes the lightning rod for those issues.
If they want you to minister to them in emergencies, offer. But don't be surprised if they cannot accept your gracious offer. I find such changes in the static community are what enliven congregations. They give fresh energy to those who were not a part of the conflict. They also free up those who led the conflict to extricate themselves from the dynamics of the conflict and sometimes learn new ways to live out their faith lives. God is always providing such ways for parishes to grow--if not in numbers then in faith.
Most likely this whole issue has nothing to do with you--we gals often take on the responsibility for everything. And if things are going well with the congregation, let yourself off the hook. If there are those who still mourn the 'departed' in your congregation, I would suggest that you ask them to call on them--not you.In an emergency or when there has been a tragedy in the family, offer your condolences or offer your prayers. If that family needs you, they will let you know.
Do you have experience with this situation? Do you have opinions about this as a lay or clergy person? Join in the conversation.
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May you live in God's amazing grace today+