A Time for Resignation

It is funny to use that word when you are referring to your relationship with a church, but that is how it feels now that Kathy and I have decided to sever our ties with the church we have been members of for 14 years. They say that they are a “Welcoming and Caring” Church, I have my doubts about that. They can be welcoming and caring when they are face to face with you, or when you call and request a visit. But when it comes to regular conversations during fellowship that part goes away very quickly.

A few years ago our Head of Staff retired, it was time, not only for his sake but also for the congregation’s. This left two associate pastors to take the reins until an interim pastor could be found. Then came the process to find a new Head of Staff, this process usually takes about 1.5 to 2 years to complete. The interim came on board about 3 months after the retirement ceremonies. This guy was liked by many, he gave good sermons, and he mingled with everyone. His job was to help heal the wounds that the congregation feels when a pastor leaves. One of the rules of our denomination is that an interim may not be called as a permanent replacement.

A strange thing happened before the search committee had completed their work, the interim (who had missed a few Sundays) announced that he was leaving to become the Head of Staff of a church in another state. This was about 6 months before the congregation would hear about their selection of a new Head of Staff for our church. In late June or early July a meeting was held to hear the pastor the committee had selected and decide to accept or reject. As it turned out it was not just a Pastor and their spouse, but a man and woman team (Co-Pastors) that were applying for the position. They both give very good sermons, hers being somewhat better than his, but he is much better with the children’s sermon.

We tried to get to know them at the church after the service, but they never seemed to have time, except those who were more active or influential in the church. I did have a chance to meet with him once or twice away from the church, and I thought I was starting to get to know him a little better.

Then at the beginning of December while riding my bike to work I hit a patch of ice, fell and broke my hip. I contacted the church and one of the associate pastors came to see me in the hospital and one time at home after I was discharged. Kathy asked for some help with meals since she was now not only preparing meals, taking care of the house but also me. This would not overwhelm most people, but Kathy also has disabilities of her own. She called the deacon in charge of congregational care two or three times and finally called the church. When the deacon, who finally delivered a meal, she was in such a rush she barely stepped inside the door before she rushed out again. It was like she didn’t have time to find out how we were so she could report back to the deacons committee.

From just before Christmas until sometime in middle of January, when we again were able to attend church regularly, we heard neither hide nor hair from our friends or pastors in the church. Even after we returned, we found that only a few would bother to take time to stop and talk. We found this to be disconcerting and after a couple of months stopped going to church altogether. Still we never heard from anyone in the church, who are “Welcoming and Caring”, call or visit to see how we are doing.

After a few months Kathy and I again discussed what we wanted to do about our spiritual/church life, we decided to return to our church. We found that not much had changed. In December I was diagnosed with a pituitary tumor and had been fired from my job. Then we had people coming up and expressing their concern. This only happened when we were at the church, it was like the rest of the week we were invisible.

In October last year Kathy ended up in the hospital as a result of complications with one of her disabilities, it was a difficult time for Kathy and me. The pastors all seemed to be too busy to find but just the smallest amount of time to visit with Kathy. I was dealing with my own fears and concerns about my wife and could not find anyone in my church that had time to sit down and talk. Because of my wife’s disability (she has Bipolar disorder) we feel that we are being shunned within our own church. Mental illness is such a scary and menacing illness that one must be weary of direct contact.

I attended the men’s retreat this year after having skipped a year and I did not come away from it with strong spiritual feelings. I felt disconnected after my attendance there, along with the interaction with the men that attended, and the church as a whole have left me feeling incomplete. I no longer enjoy going to the fellowship time because I am tired of having to be the one who must approach someone to talk to, or see the pastors turn away when they see me, whether I am moving in their direction or not. And if I should find myself in a position to talk with them, they are always in a hurry to be somewhere else.

Why go to a church, which has been your church home for 14 years, only to hear a sermon? It may be a really good sermon, but is it worth the time and energy to go for only that? I do not think so. Therefore, Kathy and I have decided that we would start the processes of church shopping again. We are discussing whether or not to stay in this denomination or look in another direction. One thing is for sure it will give us a chance to look much closer to home.

One thought on “A Time for Resignation

  1. John Hasenjaeger October 12, 2014 / 6:11 pm

    Larry & Kathy– Thanks so much for your honest and heart-rending blog post, and being willing to share it with the likes of me! My heart goes out to you for a couple of reasons–
    1. My ongoing relationship with Milwaukie Pres & Eastrose UU.
    2. My personal experience as Pastor of smaller congregations than both of these, including members who were bipolar.
    3. My personal experience with bipolar issues — not only my ex-wife to whom I was married for 8 years, but my sis-in-law about whom I shared in this AM’s service; bi-polar is a very important part of her array of issues, including alcoholism and multiple physical injuries; on top of that she’s a psych nurse, which enables her to avoid treatment, self-medicate, etc.

    Back to #2, the one thing I’d say in “defense” [if that’s what it is] of the situation at Westm, is that I think part of what you’ve experienced is a difference of dynamic that’s [almost?] inevitable with larger size congregations. They are constantly agonizing over how to “recapture the rapture” of the smaller church experience, where everything is more personal and less “program” oriented. I’m one of those ministers who came from a larger church and have only served in smaller churches; that includes having been on Session in my home church, so I see the inner workings of both kinds. I won’t be surprised if you find your true home in a smaller community than Westm!

    In any case, it’s a privilege to know you both in this way. BTW, I also spend a significant amount of time with my butt on a bike seat, including riding the 8 mi each way to Eastrose this AM.

    –All best, John H
    c: 503 706-6508

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