Report on Forward Chat Week 2 - 4/7/19
Based on feedback from the first meeting, which people felt repeated territory covered many times before, we polled the group to determine what the first topic of discussion ought to be. The list of topics listed by the 35 or so people present was as follows:
Why/How decisions re Fred were made (the Elephant in the room) 10
Accept change 5
Realistic expectations of the pastor 4
Future of CE; Young people in church 3
Focus on spiritual nourishment 2
Keeping God in church 1
Unhappiness expressed in many ways 1
Turn negativity into positivity 1
Constructive criticism 1
Honoring differences, mutual respect 1
Patience with process (both search & healing) 1
Avoiding burnout 1
Developing objectives for team building 1
Focus on community, in-house but especially wider 1
Process of pastoral search (to be discussed in Council April 14) 1
The burning need was clearly to understand what had really happened to lead up to Fred’s resignation, what Jeanie called “the elephant in the room.” This conversation had three major parts:
ESTABLISHING THE FACTS (several deacons contributed to this)
Events leading up to the Deacons’ meeting on March 19, 2019:
o Over the past six months, meetings between Fred and the Search Committee, Pastor-Parish Relations, Deacons and various individuals and delegations had been raising concerns that did not seem to be getting resolved.
o Deacons observed that attendance was declining, and even that several deacons were beginning to consider other churches.
o There was growing concern about having a public celebration to install a pastor who did not have the full confidence of the church and who might leave after the first year.
o Glenn Morris, Bob Munroe, Ruth Moran and Bonnie Molino met the day before the deacons meeting to discuss the approaching installation. Given the mounting concerns, they decided to present a motion to ask Fred to consider delaying the ceremony to give everyone more time to work out the issues. As soon as they agreed on this, they sent Glenn over to see Fred to let him know about this motion so that Fred would not be taken by surprise.
What happened in the March 19th meeting:
o Deacons met early in executive session for a confidential discussion. The minutes report:
Each deacon had the opportunity to discuss how he or she felt regarding Fred’s performance. Each person shared opinions and/or experiences with Fred. We considered pastoral care, commitment, warmth & affect, youth group development, visitation, organization & follow-up, and more. We also discussed the feeling that Sunday service has fallen flat and that church attendance is down. Over the last couple of months, many parishioners and deacons alike have stated that they are considering going to another church.
A motion was made to ask Fred to agree to a delay for his installation. The vote was unanimous. We shared this with Fred when he arrived at 7:30, and he immediately gave his 90-day resignation. He said he does not feel he is the right fit for Second Church, and that he has been feeling that way for many months now. Fred’s last day will be June 16, 2019.
The process that the deacons had in mind for solving problems with Fred was cut short by his resignation:
o Working team (Bonnie, Glenn, Bob, and Ruth) planned to work with Fred on issues
o Plan was also to draw Council and Pastor-Parish Relations into the conversation
· Since the March 20th announcement, some people have been strongly critical of the Deacons – sometimes based on incomplete or misunderstood information.
· Some Deacons actually felt shunned – people entered church passing by deacon greeters without speaking or without even meeting their eyes.
· Several deacons expressed how hurt they felt by this.
· This part of the discussion was rather heated and painful for a few moments.
· Doug Marquardt reminded us that hiring is a difficult art, and sometimes the results are not what you hoped or expected. He also reminded us that we should remember that people are almost always acting with good intentions and are trying to accomplish something good by their decisions, even if it turns out they made a mistake.
· Several people said that they were very relieved to learn the facts of the situation and that there had been repeated efforts to address the concerns before the March meeting.
· Others expressed gratitude for the Deacons’ work, and one person apologized outright for having leaped to an unkind judgement.
· While this situation was painful to everyone, if we ultimately agree that the outcome was right, it is good that it has come sooner rather than later, that both the Deacons and Fred were wise enough not to draw out the distress.
· The sting of the situation seemed to lie in the idea that Fred and the congregation were blindsided, but it became clear that Fred at least had been approached many times to discuss problem areas. The question of how much these issues should have been aired in the congregation is more problematic.
GENERAL ISSUES OF COMMUNICATION, TRANSPARENCY AND TRUST
· A few people wondered if communicating with the other standing boards might have prevented the feeling of being blindsided. Charles Turner pointed out that performance reviews need to be confidential. Having everyone in church know about the concerns being raised at the 90-day mark would only have made it more difficult for Fred to address them. Sometimes we need to trust our leaders to withhold information from us in the service of a greater good.
· When a congregation elects a smaller group of people to represent them, the act of election means that the congregation is transferring to its representatives:
o Responsibility to get work done (to prepare the budget, fix the roof, facilitate worship, oversee staff, etc.)
o Authority to make decisions related to their sphere of responsibility
· Like most human groups, we appreciate having someone else take all the trouble, but we don’t really want to give up the authority. So when our representatives make a decision that isn’t to our taste, we are tempted to gather in the parking lot where our complaints undermine the authority and the accomplishments of our elected representatives. Sometimes our opinions are based on incomplete or erroneous information or even merely on personal taste. This weakens trust in our elected leaders and contributes to the sense of exhaustion many of them feel.
Given the heavy material we were dealing with, it is a tribute to this congregation that the meeting ended with a sense of mutual understanding and a prayer of gratitude. People were thankful that we had been able to clear the air, that they had been told enough about the situation to restore confidence in the decision, that we were capable of listening to new information and use it to moderate the views we had arrived with, and that in spite of the difficulty of the conversation, we had been able to come together in love as a church family.
Next week, April 14, Forward Chats will attend the regular meeting of Church Council. Roger Moulton will chair the meeting, and the plan is to forgo the normal business of hearing reports, etc. After an opening prayer, the discussion will proceed as follows:
1. Glenn Morris, as Upcoming of Chair of the Board of Deacons and I will report on our April 2nd, 2019 meeting with Wendy Vander Hart in the parlor.
2. Discuss process to move Second Church to where and how we want to be (as a) church.
· We have done much of the hard work to move us forward. Review those steps, successes and goals.
· Review challenges and what we want to accomplish.
· Our next steps.
3. Encourage consensus – continuation of congregation’s open and frank discussion and encouragement of direct communication.
4. Saying our good goodbyes to Rev. Fred
We will not meet on Easter, April 21. We will reconvene after church in the parlor on April 28.