Sunday, January 28, 2007

Healing the Those Emotionally Hurt by Ministers

I'm not talking about those who were a victim of ministerial misconduct. That's a whole other issue.

I've become aware that part of the anti-ministerial attitude shared by some in our church comes from having had a negative experience with a minister in the past.

For most, it was in another denomination. A minister who made them feel excluded. A minister who didn't preach of love. Someone who made them feel less than what they are.

For some, it happened in our own church, in the past. They feel disillusioned.

I know that this has been an issue in other UU churches as well. It doesn't always manifest as an anti-minister attitude, sometimes these folks go to a church that already has a minister. But they carry with them the pain of previous religious experience.

Unlike most of my posts, this isn't a rhetorical question. I ask you -- do you have a program for healing these souls when they come to your church? You can put the anti-minister attitude to the side. It will be years before we can afford a minister anyway.

But how do we help them heal?

How do we give them "hope and courage"?


Nancy said...

When I was in a youth group in my teens, I remember our beloved leader did not show up one night. Instead, the husband and wife ministers came. They sat us down and told us that our leader didn't show up because she was angry at us for not coming every week and for not caring about our church/God. They told us she didn't want to come back. There were kids sobbing their hearts out. It was awful.

In the end, it was all a big lie. She couldn't make it because she was sick and had no idea this was happening. It was some sort of a tactic to get us to come to church more often gone horribly wrong.

Those people were fired after this incident, but I never forgot it. Our leader came back and talked to us, and she told us all she loved us no matter what. It was a nice reminder that ministers are human but that being human means making mistakes. It was good to see that our church took action and saw the value in having her have a heart to heart with us in which we could express our fears and ask questions.

Anonymous said...

Our church has experienced 2 issues with ministers in the past 15 years. One was a female minister that seemed to have a lot of hostility towards our male members and leaders (my husband included). Very difficult to deal with and we lost many many members who just got tired of our leadership not taking a stand in dealing with her. After many members leaving, she left. We are still healing from that transition.

For me the trauma wasn't so much that she acted poorly, but that our leadership and congregation tolerated it. Our response was to withdraw our time and money until the church could determine what path it was on. We couldn't support the way people were being treated, and unfortunately the ministerial relations committee was not allowed to talk to folks who were having these issues- she defined their role as only to support the minister at all times.

The interim minister who came did some listening with those who had been most affected, but I can tell you that it has taken YEARS to get past this. Each year that passes makes the memory easier to deal with. What I take away is that there were "scary" parts of her that made it difficult for me to deal with her- and one of my lessons is how would I deal with this if it happened again? I think I would have more strength and courage- and I learned from that bad experience

Second experience was allegations that the interim minister (male) was "seductive" or said inappropriate things to several young girls in the church. His next ministry, he was thrown out of UUA because of an inappropriate relationship with a parishioner while he was in the process of separating from his wife. This caused trauma because some of our membership were angry at UUA for not allowing him fellowship; they left our church. Others felt like perhaps we hadn't dealt with the allegations strongly emought. What a mess!

Today he is a minister in another denomination.

So how do you heal? Having positive ministers as examples of how to do it well, and time... lots of time.

I do think that having the issue on the table helps vs. burying it.

One church in St. Louis that has grown a lot said they used the technique of sacred cow suppers- they would gather to discuss sacred cow topics as a way of healing from the past and moving forward. It helped them grow as the newcomers coming in did not know about these old sacred cows that folks were getting stuck in. The discussion helped folks understand what had happened and move forward together.

I would hope that anyone who has suffered from an abusive relationship of any type (minster, therapist, teacher..._) would seek help to heal. It takes time, courage, and resources to do this. Sometimes it is easier to go on being angry and generalize that all ____ are like that. What a cop out.

Good questions to ask.