Saturday, September 8, 2007

When the Honeymoon is Over

I always think the beginning of parish ministry referred to as "the honeymoon" period is interesting. It certainly holds true in my experience - when you first arrive at a parish it's exciting, people usually like you, and as long as you don't rock the boat things go along smoothly. This beginning infatuation period can last up to a year or more, but unfortunately for me it usually never lasts even six months! I think partly it's because when you are an interim you aren't as careful as you are in a settled call. I also know I get the lay of the land - or understanding of the system and dynamics pretty quickly - so I begin to work on these things sooner. At any rate, it feels to me that the honeymoon period in my current call is over. And, I've been there not quite six months. Partly, I haven't worked with the confirmation program before and I'm making a few changes. I'm quickly learning that the parents of the teenagers in my current congregation aren't the easiest to work with. And, as happens in every congregation, when one gets wind of change and starts spreading the news - interpreting it the way they perceive it - things can go amuck quite quickly. This is also the time of a call where I begin asking myself the question, "why do I do this?" There is no other line of work where you are so consistently evaluated (by everyone all the time) and no matter what you do you are often criticized. I often wonder if I really have the kind of personality that can take the parish. I care deeply about the people, but often end up scratching my head when instead of coming to seek me out and talk to me, I get wind that someone's unhappy - from somebody else who's trying to caretake the someone who is unhappy. It is really like living in a large family system with all the dynamics and roles that you see played out in families. One writer in the field of church systems believes that everyone in the church is living out the roles they played in their families - and that is what makes for difficult and unhealthy dynamics when those folks have not grown up, differentiated, and learned to be healthy adults. This makes sense to me based on my experience. It also helps me to remember that it is just as much "them" as it is "me" when conflict begins to arise. So this week, my goal is to pray. Then try to love and nurture the people I work with, remembering my call is to nurture young people in the faith and relationship with one another as I try to deal with parents whose expectations I can never fully meet.

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