The Anniversary of an Unwelcome October Surprise
It was a brief note from one of our friends, who'd also been one of our church's associate pastors, asking my husband to pray because he and another associate had just been fired. As we later learned, the dismissals hadn't really come as a shock to our friend; in fact, the tension between members of the pastoral staff had been so thick for years that he'd been bracing himself. But it absolutely devastated the congregation because, for whatever reason, the staff and elders had hidden the truth from most of us. In hindsight, we saw a number of red flags going back at least 10 years. But we're Christians who wanted to see the best in our leaders - all men with significant spiritual gifts - so we'd minimized occasional misgivings and moved forward for the sake of the Gospel.
Back in July, I detailed the timeline of events that occurred after our terrible October surprise, and things now stand pretty much as they did then. The "protest church" (for lack of a better term) started in July by our friend now boasts 150 attenders, including about 120 "refugees" from the original church. Clearly, they are hoping to plant deep roots in this town, and part of my heart truly wishes them well; after all, as one of my elders pointed out, having an additional biblically-grounded congregation here can only be good for the city and the Gospel. But, though many in both groups are trying to maintain relationships, it's been tense. And, honestly, I miss my friends and the unity we had despite what was happening among our pastors.
At the original church - where, rather surprisingly, God has clearly called my husband and me to remain - our interim pastors have unveiled a new vision statement that they and the elders developed to help us clarify God's call for us, and they've created a workable org chart that delineates staff responsibilities and rightly puts the bulk of the church's ministries in the hands of the members. Our elders are being re-trained so they can lead biblically. And we'll begin the process of searching for new worship and senior pastors after the first of the year. We're not in a "holding pattern" until a new senior pastor is called, but we do look with anticipation to that time - even as we will sorely miss our wonderful interims when it's time for them to move on.
A year ago, I wasn't sure if the church would survive; now I know it will and that my family and I have roles in the healing process. I also know that the secrets revealed as a result of the associate pastors' dismissals had to come out; otherwise, the church would have died from a disease (i.e., rancor among the pastors) we didn't even know existed. So I have hope for the future, and I know God is with us. But, in the same way we grieve the death of a loved one even when we know he's in a better place, I mourn the loss of what we had before. And I wrestle with frustration because I know unity could have been maintained if just one or two decisions had been made differently, particularly over the past 10 months.
Conventional wisdom says the first year after a death is the hardest, as one negotiates a "new normal" through holidays and other milestones. In this case, we have the first anniversary of several "deaths" to get through: this one...the day in January when the denominational leaders' recommendations set our new course...the date in May when the associates' severance packages ended and 120 people walked away...and then the time in July when the new church officially began, ending all hope of full reconciliation. After that, we can stop marking "firsts" in our new circumstances. And then, hopefully, our new normal will really feel normal.
Photo Credit: david_pics