Sunday, October 10, 2010

Ecclesiastical Tampon: The Wrap-up

It's time to wrap up the thread on the ET. I'm sure most of you have figured out the the point of the whole thing was to relate my personal experiences as a former pastor with the institutional church. The basic conclusion I've come to is that most institutional churches are not able to successfully deal with and integrate former pastors. Whether the fault lies with the churches or the individuals will be debated for a long time. Former pastors can be a tremendous benefit to the life and ministry of any church if said church can get over the stigmatization of the "fallen pastor". Till then they will continue to serve as those who will do the dirty work that no one else wants to do. I hold out little hope that much will change.
Since I started the blog on this topic the pastor that I worked with, and then was thrown under the bus by(so to speak)because I opposed his building project, has resigned and now lives in an adjacent town. He now finds himself in the position(if he doesn't take another church) of possibly ending up as an ET. I do not wish this upon him and I think he will eventually come back in some official capacity maybe as a "fill-in" in some of the local churches in the area. He did manage to escape the situation he created(big new building,drop in attendance and finances) remarkably intact. He self diagnosed himself with MS (forgive me if he really does suffer from MS) and told the congregation that he had to leave the ministry because of the stress it was causing him and his family. I personally tend to be a bit of a hypochondriac (I thought I had Lupus once because of the symptoms listed on a billboard) and think this may be the case here. I will retract all comments and apologize in print if I am wrong. Sad to say when I heard he had bailed out and left the church, I was tempted to self-diagnose myself with Tourette syndrome and utter a few choice epithets. I have calmed down since then and realize the blame lies as much with the congregation that voted for all his proposals.
But the question I have to ask is why does a clergyman have to pull his membership when he steps out of the pulpit. Isn't he also responsible to help pay for what the group voted on? This is not the case though because of the very nature of the institutional beast. Correct me if I'm wrong but are there any examples of pastors remaining viable members of the congregation after stepping out of the pulpit(other than retirement)? I would love to hear it's possible. I'm afraid the ET model continues to thrive however. Since I live in an adjoining community I will no doubt hear what transpires in his life. Being an unrepentant skeptic I believe we will once again see the Ecclesiastical Tampon effect repeat itself. If that occurs I wonder if his personalized license plate will be changed from "DA REV" to "DA RAG". (I know it's horrible of me to type that but I couldn't bring my fingers to hit the backspace key). Come to think of it let him keep "DA REV", I'll gladly continue to do the lowly dirty jobs, it's where I've found the person of Jesus to be most evident. ET on his way home!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Seasons of the Soul

Several weeks ago I finally pulled the plug on Facebook, something I've been thinking about for some time. Don't get me wrong it has been difficult not knowing what crops Farmville is growing or how many hammers were needed to build Frontierville but I got on FB originally to expand my connection with folks of like mind and ones I'd lost contact with. This was accomplished in ways that I could not have imagined. I reestablished contact with folks I had lost track of and was able to catch up on 20+ years of silence. Now that contact was reestablished it was great to converse with them by phone and email(the old means of communication ;)). I also gained many new friends who I have never had the joy of meeting face to face. This is a blessing I hope to fully experience as I contemplate slowing down and traveling more purposefully to visit these friends.
Sorry to say along the way I also picked up a multitude of "friends" who were only seeking to promote their own agenda, book, conference, website, etc. I even found myself falling into the self promotion trap by accumulating as many "friends" as possible to increase my FB standing. The silliness peaked when an author who I met once at Solomons Porch, announced that he had reached his limit of FB friends and might have to open a second page to accommodate the multitudes waiting to befriend him. Sheesh! I immediately went into my settings and deleted him. Now he had room for 1 more adoring friend.
The truly disturbing thing that happened though is I found people with whom I used to converse regularly(some live within 1/2 mile of me) now were communicating only on FB. I realize that we are a busy society with many things to occupy our time. But have things gotten so bad that a phone call has become the letter of our modern age? Or maybe it's just a convenient way to shuffle pesty individuals like myself to the back burner where we can be easily forgotten. I'm beginning to think the latter since I have found my absence on FB has not been noticed. Rather humbling,eh? I have also noticed in my own life as I get closer to the final curtain some of the things that used to interest me no longer seem so important. Instead the thing I value most is close face to face communication with friends of like mind. And please don't give me the institutional church rap which is only one step removed from the FB schtick. I'm beginning to understand the words of Paul as he contemplated the final moments of his earthly life. He had only a few close friends and longed to spend time with as many as possible. That prospect is beginning to look very good to me also. BTW I wonder if Paul would have had a FB page? Call me lets get together for coffee!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Ecclesiastical Tampon Part 2

One of the most interesting things to watch in the institutional church is the time when a former pastor shows up at his former church. The reactions of all involved are rather unique. I've had opportunity to be on both sides of the situation. When an extremely popular pastor comes back to visit after moving up in the clergy pecking order, the current pulpit occupant(me in the story) immediately goes into a slight panic. After all you've had the opportunity to hear how wonderful Rev. SoandSo was and what a shame it was to lose him(I came from that sort of men only group). He and his family were the best and his wife could play piano like......blah,blah, you know the rest. You feel guilty even daring to occupy the same pulpit space as this gifted icon! So you put on the beaming happy face and invite him to open in prayer, share his testimony, close the service etc. all the time praying that he's not moving back into the area. You preach like there's no tomorrow and hope the aisles clog with repentant sinners, and the former pastor arises before all and calls you blessed and loosens your sandal(never seems to happen). It usually ends well though as people remember that the former pastor did have flaws and maybe you aren't so bad after all. What about the time you find yourself in the opposite position?

Before I continue let me clarify one thing about former pastors. If you have moved on or up in church circles you are acceptable even though you left your previous church. If you leave the professional ministry altogether and work in the "secular" world you are to be most pitied. You've not only left your previous church, you've abandoned the call of God, and probably become a reprobate. Your morals are open to suspicion and whatsoever thou doest shall not prosper. Woe to you if you are divorced because now (as the wagging heads acknowledge) you could not control your own household so how could you control the house of God? There is only one reason for you to ever show up to your former church and that is to fall on your face and admit your guilt. It won't change your situation but it will prove your accusers right. Remember we are dealing with folks who may have descended from those previous saints who determined that persons accused of witchcraft were guilty if they floated and thus were subsequently burned. Or they were innocent if they drowned, causing the departed much joy I'm sure. There just is no other way of saying it but the stigma scarlet letter EX-PASTOR seems to follow us all of our lives. So when you do venture back into the institution as I did you find one office that has been prepared for you and is awaiting your arrival. Come with me next time and survey the sign on your office door which says in bold scarlet letters: ECCLESIASTICAL TAMPON. By the time we're done I hope many of us EX's will rejoice to be there.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Ecclesiastical Tampon

Back in the days following my divorce, when I reentered the relationship/dating scene, it didn't take long for me to figure out that I was no longer the "catch" that I once thought I was. And eventually I found myself in one of those relationships where you realize that you are being kept around for reasons other than the ones you think you are. In the nutshell I was being used. When the light finally came on I decided to make that phone call(much easier than face-to-face). I thought I had the ultimate exit call when I told her on the answering machine that I was tired of being used and in a line from one of Jimmy Buffet's songs told her "if the phone doesn't ring it's me". The angry message I got back on my answering machine told me I had hit home. I haven't spoken to her since but have gotten feedback from mutual friends that I ended up being the villain in the whole thing. Oh well.
Several years later a buddy of mine and I were trading relationship war stories and I found out he had trumped my exit line. He was one of those guys who wasn't a good catch either because he was a nice guy and believed in treating women with respect. So he regularly got the "you're my best friend/like-a-brother" speech as he watched her run back to the abusive but "perfect hunk" kinda guy. One particularly rough episode ended and in his exit speech(think it was on the phone), he told her that he was tired of being there when she was hurt only to watch her run back to the "fix-it-up" (my word) project after she healed. He then asked her "What am I some kind of emotional tampon you use when your hurting, then throw away when you're done?". You can imagine the reaction! My friend now is married with a family and I pray that all goes well with him. The girl in the story I have no idea what happened to her.
I've been thinking that the "tampon" analogy might be a good way to describe my relationship with the organized "church" since I've left the professional pastorate. A few other leftovers like myself have come to the same conclusion. I know that the tampon analogy makes most women cringe and it's probably as popular a word in most churches as "condom". But for being an example of an extremely necessary item yet one which is regarded most often with disgust tampon seems to fit the bill. So how does this apply to ex-pastor/teachers and our relationship to the organized church? I'll explore that in upcoming posts. What do you you think?