Thursday, July 26, 2007

I really want to be a UU Minister

Actually, that's not true. It's not that I want to be a UU minister ... I can think of many careers that would pay better, offer significantly less stress -- being an air-traffic controller or bomb detonator come to mind -- and allow more time for my family.

It's that whole issue of being "called." I feel called to do this, it feels inevitable in a positive way. I have fought it for years. I thought for sure that Little Warrior's cancer journey would terminate the call. But here I go again, back to seminary, as if pulled by an invisible band ...

Ms. Kitty has me once again thinking about church conflict. Fairly innocuous-sounding phrase, "church conflict." But the level of hostility and resentment that can actually come out ... (shudders).

I have seen 2 vicious, VICIOUS conflicts and numerous little ones. The two big conflicts were over little things. Not over ethics, or whether to get a minister, or heck, even joys and concerns (that perennial source of conflict). Little things.

I've read enough about systems theory to spot the issue here. Both times, the church was poised for change. Organizations like status quo. They seek to self-correct any move to leave status quo with conflict.

That sounds so detached and objective, doesn't it? But the reality is so different. "Self-correct" can mean "attempt to eviscerate any opponent and run around with their entrails up on sticks."

This year, I have read countless books about church conflict. This is not a rare problem. Search on "church conflict" at 7,868 Results. (I haven't read all of them.)

The only real answer I have is, it's going to happen. And it doesn't matter if you're the greatest minister in the world. Church leaders, by their very existence, will be seen with suspicion and bitterness by some. I have been amazed at seeing the Board Member Phenomenon. Jane Smith is a well-liked, highly respected member of the congregation. No one can say a bad word about her. She is universally adored. So she is asked to be on the church board. She says yes. In doing so, she is instaneously transformed into a power-hungry, authoritarian beast bent on destroying the church and taking away the rights of its members. Does that actually happen? No. But merely by being in a position of authority, the perception of her is changed. She is exactly the same. But there are some church members who see anyone in an authority position in a negative light. WHY?????

(she wails into the unknown)

That's a rhetorical question. Displacement, resentment to authority ... well, heck, there's lots and lots of reasons.

And that's just a Board member. Ministers ... (she shudders again) ... ministers are expected to be absolute shiny gold perfection, dipped in chocolate. A single flaw is used to justify behavior that a person would normally be ashamed to exhibit. (Do you know, I actually had a church member come to me and suggest that we secretly create a group who would regularly meet to pray/send energy specifically about getting rid of a minister? And this was a fairly respected member of the church.) It's enough to make the ballsiest seminarian run shrieking to hide under her bedcovers.

The one balm in this is that so many of you wonderful ministers whom I respect and -- let's admit it -- see as the Mick Jaggers* in my world -- have been open about the fact that you, too, have suffered these.

So when it happens to me ... I'll be in good company!

* meaning you're the rock stars of my world. Not that you're the rode-hard-and-put-up-wet, baby-dating type. Although I imagine you sometimes feel like the first part of that.


Comrade Kevin said...

If you feel called to be a minister, then I encourage you to follow your heart wherever it may lead you. I rejoice in your decision.

And you are quite right regarding church conflict--it IS inevitable. No amount of good intentions will stop it.

IMHO, the key is to deal with it responsibly and to keep the Serenity Prayer close at hand at all times.

ms. kitty said...

It's so great that you get it, LE, and that you're going to answer your call anyhow. Because I think that's what gets us through it eventually----that we know deep inside that we are supposed to be here and that even when we're in trouble (madeup or real) we're answering the call. Something is happening because of us.

When I left the congregation which had given me such grief, I knew that it had changed and my struggle was not in vain, even though it was horrible.

Mary Ann said...

I suspect that conflict is only inevitable in living congregations. Many die quietly. (Of course, many die noisily, too.)

And, as people so often say, it can signal opportunioty. So long as it's about what's it's really about, and folks argue sort-of-honestly.

*salute* to your following call-- it certainly beats the torment and struggle of not following it! (But don't you find it the strangest experience of your life?)