Thursday, October 7, 2010

Church - itus

So I’m back in the saddle again. Started work on a part time basis for September and October working up to a full time schedule for November. It feels good to be back and making myself useful. It’s curious to see people’s reactions to my return. Mostly I get warm hugs and “welcome backs” but I’ve also received some “evil eyes” and cold shoulders.

It’s difficult not to try to guess what that negativity is about. But I work at letting go of making assumptions or guesses. I’ll try to roll with the reactions – letting the negativity be – and asking GOD to provide the opportunities (or courage) to explore the anger people are carrying.

Somebody gave me a little book when I first entered congregational ministry here in Bobcaygeon. I love the title: “Ministry is a High Calling – Aim Low” by Kurt R. Schuermann. In the first chapter the author describes how when a Minister walks down the aisle of a sanctuary, you should imagine that there is a big target on his/her back.

A good sense of humour sure helps. We have to realize that much of the time it is people’s own pain that they are projecting out at a safe and vulnerable target. Are they aware of this? Why would they be? Who takes the time to step back, study, and reflect on the dynamics of group-think or unconscious behaviours except Ministers? Not many Ministry and Personnel committees would list this as one of the tasks their high-paid professional friendly person should do. But not doing it is a recipe for crazy-making.

I see so many of my church colleagues so completely immersed in their work that they can’t get a head out of the water high enough to see – “hey – there’s a world out here beyond the church!” You’d be surprised how many times I heard the comment “I could sure use four months off”. I had to agree “yes you sure could”.

When you spend so much of your time in the church, talking with, socializing, praying, thinking about church people, it is so easy to get en-cultured. When we absorb the high and holy purpose to which our beloved organization is called – live and breathe and believe in it – it is so easy to become convinced that it is up to us to save the world, save the souls, or at least save our little churches from disappearing into red ink.
If only we could work harder, be more creative, be more spiritual, be more than we are…

Parker Palmer has coined a term “functional atheism”. It refers to a pattern of behaviour that sees us worker ants acting as if it is our little sandhill in our little sandbox that is all that GOD is about in the world.

I’m really talking about my self here as much as anybody else I know. When it came down to a psychiatrist prescribing medication so I could keep up this activity – I knew it was time to give my head a shake.

Normal people – people who don’t suffer from Church-itus – often take three or four months off from church. I’m sure there’s people in church last sunday who didn’t know I was away. It’s common in Bobcaygeon for people to disappear for the winter, or the summer, and reappear to pick up a role or a job as they are able. We’ve been getting better at organizing our committee work to adjust to this reality.

When church volunteer leaders burn out. When they find that they are so absorbed in church life and work and just can’t get anyone else to pick up their jobs. When those jobs just seem to keep multiplying and getting heavier. When they come to me and say that the only way out they can see – is to quit the church. I urge them to take a Sabbatical. Take a summer or a winter or a year off. Turn off the internal Nominating Committee that feeds your “need to be needed” hungers. Instead, take the time away to listen again to that quiet voice in you that “calls” you into community – to play that one most important role God has for you.

Many of those people have come back and become involved not in running the church – but in Ministry.

An article in the September Observer about a new course at Emmanuel College puts it well. There is some controversy in the letters to the editor section about this course in Moslem approaches to Pastoral Health Care. Why wouldn’t we focus on the ever-greater needs of our own church? One writer responds “God cares about more than just Christians.”

So, as I get back into the saddle I’ll try to remember that this job is just one of God’s ways to get us where we’re going. This “horse” called the United Church is only one beast of burden in God’s great panoply of options for making life out of death and health out of ill-ness. God never tires of bringing disparate lives together again into common hopes. But surely GOD tires of us trying to do it as if it’s a job we can do alone.

Maybe it’s time to let that horse run free for a while. Let it do what it was born to do – run wild and free without fences in a herd across God’s great diverse tundra, fields, and forests. Even horses need to remember what it feels like to just run for the love of running.

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