Thursday, April 21, 2005

Clergy Killers

“The title of Lloyd Rediger's book is shocking, but not as much as the behavior described inside its covers. Clergy killers are people who seek to destroy the credibility, reputation, and career of pastors. Certainly, many unhappy separations of pastor and people occur without clergy killers being involved. But Rediger's clinical experience as a pastorial psychotherapist confirms what I have seen happen again and again to friends and acquaintances in the pastorate, especially in the last 20 years.... His knife sometimes cuts close to the bone. If we submit to his surgery now, however, we will be better prepared to deal with the problem of genuinely malicious attacks against pastors.
Everett L. Wilson, Christianity Today

My sister's brain tumor wasn't the first bad thing that happened in my family. The first bad thing started happening a few years earlier. My father is a Presbyterian minister (PCUSA). He felt that he'd accomplished his mission at the church where I grew up and began the search for a new home. He was called to a church in an affluent community near his favorite large city, and would be overseeing a long-awaited building campaign. This would be a pleasant change of pace from the rural community where we'd been living for 11 years.

After we moved to the new town, it became apparent that the pastoral search committee had sugar-coated some things. The church had a serious problem with giving, so the building project was stalled. People would come to Christmas Eve service in their mink coats and leave nothing in the offering tray. They did not tithe and refused to pay the annual per capita fee to the denomination. Worse, the church was deeply divided between the conservative old guard - mostly choir members, who wanted things to go on as they always had, preferably under their control - and the conservative new guard who felt no allegiance to the denomination and wanted to attract newer, younger members with evangelical-style teachings and worship.

My father angered both groups and slowly, over time, they came together in opposition against him. The choir resented being told what to sing. They felt that they should be allowed to sing whatever they wanted, rather than singing hymns, selected by the minister, that accompanied the week's lectionary readings and sermon. They didn't like variety in the worship service. The evangelicals resented the per capita offering and my father's allegiance to the denomination.

They consulted together in secret meetings. They made up lies about my father and the church, printed them on fliers, and passed them out in the parking lot. They secretly contacted the Presbytery Exec and told her lies about my father.

They said that he was a horrible head of staff, forcing out the last two associate ministers by being a terrible boss, when my father is still in touch with his last two associate ministers, who felt pushed out of the church by this conservative congregation's treatment of them as single mothers. They made allegations of financial misconduct, completely unsupported by the records. Meetings were held in secret, no evidence was produced, and no opportunity was provided for parishioners to speak in his defense.

My father ignored it all. He took the high road. He continued working 15 hour days, 6 or 7 days a week. He didn't tattle. He didn't confront. He just did his job the way he'd always done it. He officiated at weddings and funerals. He visited at the hospital and at the homes of sick and homebound members. He was involved in the community.

But eventually it was too much. Things got too ugly. There was - and still is - a deep schism within that church. Many people left when my father was forced out. The church is still not whole, not united, not well. My parents still live in the same community. Every day, they drive past the church as they run errands. They run into former parishioners at the grocery store, the gas station. They can't join the gym because it's too awkward. The woman who orchestrated the uprising lives less than a block from my parents' house.

It must always be cripplingly awful to be rejected by those you've worked hard for, but I think it is somehow worst when it's the church. My dad didn't just lose his job. We all lost our church home. We lost some of the faith we'd had in community. The ministry is more than a full time job for a good pastor, and his whole family is part of the package.

Now my father has a second doctoral degree and a second career that he loves very much. He's also still an ordained minister part-time, well-loved in his current church despite efforts by some of his former parishioners and a very power-hungry church executive who tried to follow him from church to church to keep him from supplying a pulpit anywhere in the area. Even though he never fought back, the fight became very personal for some of these people.

Christians are supposed to be above petty politics in the church. Church leaders are not supposed to be in it for power and glory. If the church is your career as well as your religious home and the center of your involvement in your community, and the church attacks you, where do you go?

It changes your whole life. It changes everything. This was the first bad thing that happened to my family, and in small painful ways every day, it's still happening.

I'm thinking about this tonight because this week my current church is voting to dissolve the pastoral relationship with our current minister, whom I like very much.


Jessica said...

You know how much I love your dad - the idea of someone treating him (or anyone for that matter) in such a way bothers me.

I'm also sorry to read that your church is trying to dissolve the relationship with the minister you like so much. It is particularly painful, I think, to experience this among people who call themselves Christians.

Gosling said...

You write beautifully, Sarahlynn. This post really touched my heart.

Moreena said...

I am so sorry to hear that this happened to your family. What stressful times for you all. I hate it that churches can be so divided, although I know that people are only human, etc. etc. On the other hand, I am not a churchgoer myself, so I guess I'm rather naive on the issue.

Psycho Kitty said...

I'm sorry, too, Sarahlynn. I've heard of similar situations in other denominations. I think Jessica hit it on the head--"people who *call* themselves Christians." It's sad that people who are so far off the mark when it comes to living according to what their claimed spiritual beliefs require can still claim title to those beliefs. Sigh.

Redhead Editor said...

God so loved the world that He didn't send a committee. It pains me when loving people, albeit Christians, treat others like this.

Sarahlynn said...

Thank you, Amazon!

And yeah, "Christians" are really pissing me off right now. I prefer the Christians who read more Matthew than Revelations and find the living Christ more inspirational than the one on the cross.

Kate said...

Good day,

My name is Kate, I am a parishioner of St. Peter parish here in Geneva, IL. Our church is under attack by a certain group of laypeople who are trying to destroy the reputation and life of its pastor. Unfortunately this small group of dissidents contains some very influential people, who are connected personally to the Bishop, and in so, have a stranglehold on our parish.

They have somehow convinced the Bishop to issue a special precept preventing our pastor, Monsignor Joseph Jarmoluk, from defending himself from their public attacks. They have been slowly killing our parish for three years now, and unfortunately we have been unable to uproot them, possibly until now.

Currently, by the grace of God, a small documentary company has picked up our story and is currently producing a feature film about our pastor's struggle. Because we now have a public voice, many of the previously silent supporters (who's numbers vastly outweigh those of the dissident group) have decided, like myself, to speak out about this tragedy.

As this "clergy killing" mentality seems to be more and more common we are reaching out to anyone that may be able to further strengthen our cause.

We are not looking for any type of monitory donation. We are simply looking for exposure and help in spreading the word.

We realize that the only thing that will stop these "clergy killers" is exposing them for what they are. There is a message board and website set up to help open up these roads of communication.

Please, in your newsletters, message boards, or any other public manner, spread the word of our struggle and offer our website and message board’s address so that others may show their support. Only with your help and in great numbers will we be able to heal or parish is the website is the message board, which has been very healthy with well over 100,000 views.

This is an extremely hot topic in Church and it is something that we feel we have a chance to put an end to. We have many large organizations fighting for us, as well as many powerful Bishops, but constantly need the support of the public and others who feel the need to help us fight the cause.

Please help us save our church. Yours may be next.

Thank you in advance and may God bless you.

Kate Winslow

Rev. Mr. Christopher Martin said...

Dear Saralynn,
Although I'm a Lutheran minister, I can understand and sympathize with your father's story. "Clergy Killers" in my home congregation destroyed the ministry of my senior pastor, who I had the pleasure of working under for 5 years. Only he resigned and left the parsonage immediately. I wasn't immune to the lies and mistreatment, either. It has been two and a half years since, but the clergy killers in that congregation are striking again, this time in my direction, despite the fact I now serve a different congregation. They turned a District President and neighboring congregations against me, and spread lies in an attempt to destroy my current ministry. Although I am determined to continue in the pastoral ministry, it has been a difficult struggle, especially considering I'm still relatively young.

May God continue to bless you and your family and may you find Peace and Comfort that lies in Christ alone!
In Christ,
Christopher W. Martin
ELCM Mission Developer for North Iowa
Pastor, North Prairie Lutheran Mission, rural Leland, Iowa