4 In Blog

SOMETIMES (CHURCH) FAMILY IS HARD

prayer-trees

Intention. Love. Time.

Today was a difficult day.

As many of you know, my family and I belong to a United Church congregation in Toronto. Today, our congregation voted on whether to continue the pastoral relationship with our lead minister. We were basically voting on whether or not this minister should be fired. 

In and of itself, this would be a difficult thing. What complicated matters even more for my husband and me is that this person is not only our minister, but our friend. We believe in the work he has done (the work he is doing) passionately and without reservation. To be clear, if this person was dismissed he was being dismissed without cause.

This vote, and the various moving parts leading up to it, has been very divisive–and the division has been painful. I have spent the last two weeks feeling very angry and very hurt. When it became clear enough people were dissatisfied that presbytery would be called in to facilitate a vote, I became consumed with thoughts along the lines of, “Who are these people? What is their problem?” The more reflective side of me sometimes wondered, “What has happened to make these people feel so disenfranchised that this is the only way to address it?” Just as often, and I’m not proud of this, I wanted to say a great big “eff you” to the folks writing in letters and asking for this person’s dismissal. I may be a church mama, but I’m a church mama who swears like a trucker.

Bickering. Dissent. Division. These are the kinds of things my non-church friends think of when I tell them I attend church regularly. This probably isn’t the kind of stuff Jesus had in mind.  Why do we even bother with organized religion, right?

Church is also the place my children associate with friends, fun times and play. It is where I have found a new purpose with my music. It is where my husband has found the inspiration to seek a new vocation. He is currently in training to enter ordained ministry.

Our church congregation has become like our family. Jason and I started attending in December 2010. At the time, he wasn’t my husband. We didn’t live together. He was my boyfriend. Within six months we found ourselves surprisingly but happily pregnant. It was with our church family that we celebrated. Because our parents and siblings are spread out across the country, it was members of our church family who held me as I wept with the exhaustion, loneliness and frustration that came with the daily grind of being a new mom. They brought us food. They came over and snuggled my son so I could sleep for 20 minutes. They have delighted with us as our babies grow into real little people (who knew that was going to happen?).

I love these people a lot. But sometimes family is hard. That goes for church family too. With the congregation heading towards a divisive vote, I assumed it would be people I didn’t know and like leading the charge. This wasn’t true. Some of the most vocal opponents of our minister (my friend) were people whom I like and respect. In the meeting today, I got up and spoke to why I felt these people were wrong, and they got up and explained why they thought I was wrong. Questionable words were used. Feelings were hurt. People were offended. It was an uncomfortable two hours.

There was a clear result after the votes were tallied–more than 87 percent of the people who voted supported the continued pastoral relationship with our current minister (friend). But what happens now? How do we move on from the words that were said and the hurt that is being felt on both sides? I still love the people who advocated for the dismissal. There are people I care about who are going to be really uncomfortable at church for a while.  They feel let down.  I’m not aware of any church family therapists.

I have no great insight into how this is going to get better.  In the short term, things are going to be really crappy.  The only elements we have to work with are intention, love, and time.  It’s not much and yet it’s everything all at once.   The photo above is of two prayer trees that grow on the Five Oaks property near Brantford.  You write a prayer on a piece of cloth and, over time, the elements of wind and rain absorb the ink and the cloth begins to fade.  I’d like to think the angst we’re feeling will also change in a similar way–it will never be gone, but it might get channelled into something that is larger than us.  Maybe, eventually, even something of beauty.

My face is still hot from all the frustrated tears I spilled this afternoon.  I really hope we are able to move past this stronger.

Right now, though, I need a Guinness.

Love and light.

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4 Comments

  • Reply
    Marg Burkholder
    May 16, 2016 at 11:21 pm

    Bri-anne, thinking of you and your church family. May the blessings of Christ ease the pain, sadness, and frustration that you are all experiencing. Prayers and hugs, Marg

    • Reply
      swannybee
      May 17, 2016 at 12:01 am

      Thanks, Marg. I hope you and your family (nuclear and church) are all well! Please send my well wishes to the people at St. Paul’s UC, Cochrane! xo

  • Reply
    Tracy Gray
    May 17, 2016 at 2:52 am

    I wish you strength. I deal with this continuously being on a City Council. Voting “against” a friends’ wishes because it’s the right thing to do, people thinking I don’t understand their position, long time fiiends or supporters being so upset with me because I didn’t advocate for their belief system even though I didn’t agree with it, or it was against a policy that needed to be followed….it’s hard. I want to be able to justify my decisions and look in the mirror. We should be able to laugh at our differences and agree to disagree. If people can’t put a difference of opinion behind them and still laugh and hug and act and feel like they did before the difference of opinion, as hard as it may be to admit, they weren’t a true lifeling friend. And, that’s OK. Letting go is OK. Friendships change, and that’s OK. Some people can’t move on or get over a situation, and that’s OK. Some people can’t compartmentalize a situation and put it on a shelf, and that’s OK. Some friends are for a day, a season, a year, or a lifetime. All are to be cherished for whatever they were at the time. , Tracy Gray

  • Reply
    Catherine
    May 18, 2016 at 12:11 am

    Well said B.

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