Some time ago, I touched on Joe McKeever’s excellent article, “Ten Signs the Pastor or Employee has Been There too Long.” While written from an SBC perspective, its key points hold true, regardless of denomination. And the tenth point, which I didn’t previously discuss, is particularly true in Dysfunctional Bob’s case. That point is that it’s time for the rector to go when he or she is willing to destroy the church in order to protect themselves. (Those interested may find the full article here.)
In Dysfunctional Bob’s case, his efforts to get at me, by his own admission in his written settlement proposal, have damaged the church. At this point in time, it’s hard to gauge how lasting the harm will be, but given the demographics of the parish, Bob’s lack of initiative, and the extent conflict lurking right below the surface in the church, it’s difficult to see things getting better for the church any time soon. Indeed, within the next 20 years the vast majority of the current congregation will be dead and gone. And long before that point numbers will soon drop to where the overhead associated with the building will be more than the parish can sustain.
That begs the issue: Why, after almost 4 years, is Bob still pursuing his vendetta? Why has he included Mike in his vendetta? And my mother, now very close to the end of life?
The answer, I believe, is that Bob is a priest in name only. Jesus modeled health, wholeness, reconciliation, and welcoming the oppressed. Bob models none of these things, but rather their opposites.
Nor will Bob’s departure readily repair things. Over the years, Bob has taught parishioners a model of conduct that includes threatening and bullying others, urging people to commit suicide, and in the case of Kirk Steffensen and members of Dysfunctional Bob’s family, threatening people’s jobs. One has only to look at the smug, self-satisfied emails of parishioners like Kemp Williams and Easter Thompson to see how thin faith really is at Grace Church. Nor do these or myriad other examples indicate that parishioners actually have enough introspection to recognize their facially shallow faith. That said, I’ll drop a hint: If you haven’t taken steps to resolve this conflict, you should be asking yourself some tough questions. Second hint: If you’re okay with Bob giving Mike the heave-ho, then you’ve really got issues. Third hint: Trying to drag the dying into court.
Of course, it’s a pretty sad state of affairs when Jeff “Sugarland” Chiow, hardly a model of ethical conduct with his inflammatory pleadings and false statements of fact to the Virginia courts, occupies the high moral ground apropos Bob by virtue of having made a settlement offer on his client’s behalf. That said, Sugarland’s offer was a legal maneuver; there was no aspect of the Christian faith set forth within.
These issues will create a problematic future for the parish. Young people today have scant use for organized faith under the best of circumstances, and the ugly rhetoric involving “domestic terrorism” coming out of the parish, the pursuit of a dying woman, and Bob’s bullying evince a faith for which most young people have little use. Indeed, the decline in pledging units and Sunday attendance at Grace Church suggests that many already at Grace have little use for Bob’s religious world views, which can best be summarized as the conflation of “friendly,” with “faithful.”
Nor should one discount the disappearance of many past stalwarts of the church. Quite a few, indeed many friends, have left the church, often on relatively bad terms. Yes, the front door is wide open and you’ll be welcomed with open arms, but the back door is open far wider, and folks are just as happy to point you in that direction if it suits them—another sign of organizational narcissism.
Going forward, Grace Church would be wise to place a clause in its letter of agreement requiring 1) an annual review of the rector 2) an annual mutual ministry review 3) a requirement that the rector adhere to all canonical and local community policies and regulations and 4) face an annual secret ballot, by the vestry, on whether to continue the contract after 10 years. This should include a provision that if such a vote is not held, then the contract terminates automatically.
Term limits are good, and that’s true for both priests and presidents.