14 January 2007

Annual meeting angst

I hate the Annual Meeting.
I don't say, "I hate" about too many things, because about most things, I just don't really feel that worked up about. But I hate the Annual Meeting of our church. And I'm not the only one.
We had ours today after church. I think most of the saner members of our congregation had been praying for a reprieve in the form of an ice storm. God did not deliver.
The Annual Meetings are always a time of big stress for our congregation. I have no idea why. Literally all the information contained therein has been presented to the board in the months leading up to the meeting. Basically, it just contains financial reports, ministry reports, and the proposed budget for the coming year. It should not be a big deal.
But it is. And it certainly was today. And, as is usually the case at these things, attacks were directed at me. Fun times.
Today's budget included a proposed 3% cost of living increase for me. This is the first cost of living increase I've received in my 5 1/2 years here. Now, to be fair to the congregation, we've done lots of jockeying of my package about. But it has never increased. When I got married, I had them move the amount they paid in healthcare into my salary since I was covered by Dennis. They saved $100 doing that. Then when I had Annalivia, I took a 1/4 salary decrease in order to have her with me. Last year, we didn't do anything to it. This year -- we finally did what should have been done all along and increased it. A whopping 3%.
Most people did not have a problem with it, but there are two main antagonists in the congregation who did have a problem, but did not want to have a verbal vote on it. They wanted a secret ballott. That was rejected by the board chair, so the budget passed. No one voted against it.
Then we voted on my proposed maternity leave. I had tried to craft this maternity leave with ultra-sensitivity to what worked and what didn't when I had Annalivia. So I proposed that I take 4 weeks of leave from the pulpit, during which time I'd be available for emergencies and funerals as able, would do newsletters/ bulletins, as necessary and would be available for questions and concerns. I offered to use my vacation time for this leave. Then, rather than taking the other two weeks off of the pulpit that I took with Annalivia, I requested 4 weeks of slow return during which time I wouldn't attempt office hours, but would do the mid-week Lenten service, bulletins, sermons, choir practice, etc. I asked that my salary, benefits remain the same during both periods. I really honestly thought that this was an incredibly generous proposal and when I presented it to the pastor/ parish relations committee and to the elders, they voiced their appreciation for it also and approved it quickly and unanimously.
But today, the antagonists said that they thought I shouldn't get paid full salary for the second four weeks. And further, they said, TONS of people agreed with them, but just wouldn't speak up about it. Which then devolved into a conversation about how people talk to the elders but nothing ever gets done about their concerns and no one is available for them to talk to about their worries and the church is in trouble and blah blah blah. We finally got back to conversation about the maternity leave and I told them that I thought the proposal was more than fair given that the first four weeks were not really vacation at all. And finally, they took a secret ballot vote and it passed 16 to 8, though I'm sure if we did that verbally that not one person would have dissented.


Aside from the fact that I can't stop thinking about it, there are several things that bother me. The first is that there is always a kernel of truth in criticism. This time, I think it is about office hours. I have an incompetent secretary and have let her run amok (though in my defense, it's only in the last month that I've figured out just how incompetent she is.) She needs constant supervision and I've not been willing or able to give it to her. Nevermind the fact that our congregation just simply cannot have a secretary who needs constant supervision. Right now, unless the personnel committee decides to do otherwise, she's the secretary.
The second thing that really bothers me is that once again, trouble is brewing and I'm not clued in. And because I'm not plugged in, I don't know whether it's several people or a dozen people or what. I don't know if it centers on home visitation concerns or anxiety about availability after the baby is born or whether it is just that I minister to older folks who really have nothing to do during the winter other than talk to each other on the phone and complain a lot -- which I mean in the nicest way possible, I promise.
The third thing that bothers me is that we have systems set up to deal with this stuff -- we have elders and a pastor/ parish ministry team that generally reflects the make-up of the entire congregation. We have board meetings and ministry team meetings. Yet, the folks in the system don't know how to handle their responsibilities. The elders don't know how to defend themselves against attacks or how to respond graciously to concerns. The pastor/ parish group doesn't know how to seek opinions of others and provide an appearance that concerns are being parlayed to the appropriate parties. The board and ministry teams try to handle everything and end up doing nothing. I end up feeling as though I must kick-start everything in order for it to be started and monitor everything in order for it to be accomplished and when I don't do those things, which I don't much of the time, whatever it is that needs to be, is not.
Fourth -- I don't know if I have the energy or desire to deal with it all. For all that I've written about faithfulness to call, I don't know if I can work out this call. I'm praying for energy and strength and desire to be faithful, but I'm tired. I'm about to give birth, and frankly, I JUST DON'T WANT to make the political phone calls and explain to the Pastor/ Parish team for the gazillionth time how to invite people into sharing with them and talk my crazy secretary into leaving stuff alone in the office because we all function much better when we know where things are. Part of me is resentful. They should know this stuff. They should be able to talk to each other. They should be able to talk to me.
And on the other hand, this is where I was called -- to minister to people even if I don't wanna. Even if they should know better. And this is where I've been blessed. And this is where I'm supposed to be. I know this.

I've been reading Anne Lamott's Plan B: Some Further Thoughts on Faith. Her book, Travelling Mercies, saved my life in seminary, literally, so I've been excited to read this. She writes about a church conflict,
"At times like these, I believe, Jesus rolls up his sleeves, smiled roguishly, and thinks, 'This is good.' He lets me get nice and crazy, until I can't take my own thinking and solutions for one more moment.
So the next morning, I got on my knees and prayed, "Please, please help me. Please let me feel You while I adjust to not getting what I was hoping for." And then I remembered Rule 1: When all else fails, follow instructions. And Rule 2: Don't be an a-hole."
Good advice. While I'm praying for instructions, I'll be resisting any urge to ignore #2.
Of course, I'm probably going to need a lot of prayer for that. It's far easier to ignore #2 than put into action #1.


Unknown said...

Wow that's depressing. I'd feel a bit of anxiety too. Just 2 observations here:

One of the things I've noticed about small churches is that the 'official' systems in place almost never work. There's almost always some unofficial way that things get done.

It's frustrating as heck but that's just the reality of it. I find myself re-instructing people about the 'official' way to get things done but sometimes I wonder if it would just be more efficient to do things the unofficial way.

The story of the issues with salary and leave are sad, especially when the church almost always wants their pastor to have the 'perfect' family, but doesn't want to actually pay the price of what it costs for them to have one...

Hang in there!

April said...

I think one of our problems is that we don't even have an unofficial way to do stuff! Or maybe, honestly, it's that the pastor is supposed to be the unofficial do-er and I just haven't figured out that I should play the game that way. These poor people -- sometimes I'm pretty clueless!

Unknown said...

Wow what a lot you have going on April. Small churches. you may be right trouble may be brewing or its always been there because of the church system. i think church systems tend to be anxious themselves. i'll pray for you trying not to give into urge #2. I hope all goes well with the pregnancy and leave.

But something is working pretty good if you have been there for 51/2 years.

Anonymous said...

April, I think your offer was more than generous. More than! Your story is terribly sad. :( One small 3% increase in 5.5 years? Wow. I know you love them, and care for them...and desire to serve them...

and perhaps we would do better without all of the "systems," but this is the way it is set up - for now, at least - and a minister is worth paying an equitable wage for the work that they do.

Part of what you are experiencing, I would imagine - (and please don't be offended by this...and please don't think that I'm saying you can't be a woman pastor) is that you are a young woman in the pastorate. You are dealing with things that male pastors don't need to deal with. When we have a baby, my dh takes a few days off...maybe goes in a little later some mornings...and that's about it. :) He doesn't need time off to heal or to bond. (Well bonding is always good...but you get my point.)

I wonder, too, if the church feels justified by thinking that since your husband has a job, you don't need them to "support" you...thus...it is okay to not give you the cost of living?

As to the training in flow for order and organizational structure and hospitality...and keeping things turning...I think that is a common problem. I think that sometimes it just takes constant training - seemingly endless training. (Which of course wears a pastor out and then you have another problem.) It is a "church" problem because mostly - our people are volunteer. There is no "reward" for quick learning nor doing the job well. Er...there is no reward on this earth! :)

No answers - I'm just sorry!

Best wishes as you prepare for the new little man!

April said...

Thank you, Holly! I appreciate your understanding and prayers.
I DO think it is very much the what-do-we-do-with-this-girl thing! I'm also the first pastor under 40 who has dealt with raising a young family. That's a lot of new variables, too.
In the end, I know it will all be ok. I suspect the life of my ministry here will be coming to an end in the next year or so, and that when that happens, it will be ok and healthy for all of us. Of course, I could have that all wrong!
Thanks again for your prayers!

Geoffrey said...

What a crappy way to treat a pastor who has served them so well. A systems view of small church life often exposes the unhealthy and in many ways co-dependent nature of much of the formal and informal leadership. Being trapped in the meat grinder of that as a pastor is tough. It almost hurts just to read it.

I read a great quote from Alban several years ago that has stuck with me. The number one reason young people consider ministry is because of the way their home church treated their pastor. The number one reason young people do not consider ministry is because of the way their home church treated their pastor.

Churches operate with the myth that pastors are replaceable parts that one can pull off the shelf at Lowes for 19.95. With so many small churches still thinking it is below them to hire a bi-vocational or a past-time pastor, they try to find what the smallest amount is they can pay a seminary trained pastor- and pretend as if that price ought to never go up.

Yet the truth of church leadership is, we can only change ourselves. We cannot change others- as much as we might like to give it a shot (pun intended). Keep letting Christ be real in, changing you from within, and that is the greatest witness you can offer to the unhealthy powers that cripple congregational life. Speak the truth in love.


April said...


Thank you.

Yet the truth of church leadership is, we can only change ourselves.

Amen, brother. This is where I think so many of us get crippled -- we want THEM (whomever that may be) to change first.

That being said, I wonder if it is really true that I HAVE, in fact, served them well. Since I got married and certainly since I had a child, church is no longer the most important relationship in my life. Or even third or fourth most important.
I struggle with what it means to be a good pastor. So many of the models I've seen have sacrificed themselves or their families for the sake of the church. And when one does that, the line between "good" pastor and "bad" pastor can be so quickly crossed. Committed can become controlling and connected can become fused so easily. It is always up to us as the pastor to figure out where that balance lies and I confess, I have a hard time with it. I think I err on the side of distance most of the time. And I know my little system feels that as rejection/ lack of care/ disinterest. Of course, if I'm honest -- sometimes it is.

Keep letting Christ be real in, changing you from within, and that is the greatest witness you can offer to the unhealthy powers that cripple congregational life. Speak the truth in love.
Thank you for these words, especially. Glad you stopped by!

Anonymous said...

And that is the balance for every caring pastor.

Never, never, never easily discernable nor easily achieved.

Geoffrey said...

While most struggle with the balance of work, church, family and calling we ought not beat ourselves up over it. As silly as it sounds, we had someone already give their life for our cause. The cross of our calling should not lead to absent parents, overworked pastors and co-dependent churches demanding that the pastor "fix" all their problems. Chances are they need a church burning or a few funerals to fix their problems- not an inspiring message or one more home visit.

Stupid story...A little girl looks up at her mom after dinner and said "Where is daddy tonight?" The mom replies "Daddy is a busy pastor and he is our visiting the Johnsons for the third time this year." Puzzled the girl asks "When is daddy going to come visit us?"

Silly but true.