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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Ask the Matriarch - A Pastoral Concern

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.

Muthah+ responds...

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.

Faithfully, Muthah+

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+


  1. Last year, I had a member who was very angry. He quit everything and stopped coming to church, taking his wife out with him. And I was partially responsible for his anger - although most of us feel he overreacted.

    Two months later, he had a serious fall and was hospitalized. I went straight to the hospital and that was what turned things around. As soon as he was able, he and his wife returned to church but not to ministry.

    And then I fired the organist. He had been one of the chief complainers but my actions have once again caused him to leave the church - this time it took him a few weeks and I really don't know if he and his wife are gone for good this time or not. He sent me an angry email and I sent him a reply, carefully worded.
    If there should be a pastoral emergency, I will still respond. I have no idea whether I would be welcomed but I have to go anyway.

    Rejection is something we can't shy away from. It's part of the job. And sometimes, it doesn't happen when we have been expecting it!

  2. I would say if they contact you and ask for your to visit, then you respond. I would not go to them unless you are invited directly by them. They are going to other churches - despite membership rolls - they have other pastors now.

  3. That's a hard one. If it's a former member who I know does not have another pastor to provide care, I will go — once. If I'm kicked out or turned away, I try to leave with a blessing.

    If their situation has been brought to my attention by someone else, I will say, "Do you mind contacting X and asking if s/he would like a visit? I'd be glad to go."

    In extreme situations, where I know they need a clergy presence and know they won't accept mine, I've tabbed a colleague to go.

    Generally, I try to take the high road and tell myself that as justified as I am in staying away, I'd feel terrible if "something happened."

  4. I haven't been in the exact situation, but a similar one. What I do when someone is attending another church, but still technically a member of mine is make sure to send a handwritten note on a card. In my case most of the folks who have left actually left before I came, so we have no relationship anyway. I use this with folks who have left since I have come, too.


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