As Grace Church prepares for Dysfunctional Bob’s departure and the arrival of an interim rector, one thing is painfully clear: Any interim brave enough (or perhaps foolish enough) to take the position has her work cut out for her. Specifically, after 30 years of Dysfunctional Bob and his sordid example, the way people in the church talk about each other, and to each other, is appalling.
To be sure, it took me a long time to spot this issue myself. Indeed, it was a member of the Grace Episcopal School staff, herself Episcopal, who pointed it out to me in 2014. Her exact words: “I would never belong to your church, and it’s because of the way people talk to each other. And it goes right to the top. And I’ll tell you right now, Bob will never say anything about it. And because he engages in a certain amount of it himself, he shows people that it’s alright.”
At the time, I foolishly came to Bob’s defense; it was more than a year later before I finally realized that she was absolutely correct.
Now, with the advantage of hindsight, and having seen firsthand that Dysfunctional Bob is morally bankrupt and a perjurer as well, I realize that this ugly discourse does indeed permeate every aspect of Grace Church. Whether it’s Alison Campbell and her fun and games with the altar guild; Lisa Medley and her bullying/bitchy behavior; Teresa Preston and her gestures that indicate she believes I’m mentally ill; Eric Waskowiscz, Amy Medrick and others with their one-gun salutes to Jesus, or Bob Malm in his emails to the vestry and the diocese, there is a profoundly un-Christian attitude within the church that comes to the surface when parishioners talk to each other.
Before we go further, I am not the only one to notice it. Kyle Babin, himself the target of bullying by choir members, called it an “evil spirit” at Grace Church. Former member John Cunningham posted to Facebook, saying he left the parish due to bullying and other abusive conduct (screen cap below).
Additionally, folks at the Wartburg Watch commented on ugly comments from Lisa Medley and Leslie Malm; the former didn’t even have the courage to post under her name. Their comment: “[these parishioners] seem sane to themselves, they seem immature and hateful to outsiders looking at their behavior.” (Screen cap below)
Going right to the top, we have Dysfunctional Bob’s email to the vestry, in which he describes me as a “sad individual…starving for attention.” While this is an interesting bit of projection from Bob Malm, who regularly curries adulation in order to support his shaky sense of self, the fact the he feels comfortable talking about a former parishioner to the vestry in this manner is telling and illustrates the church culture that Bob has promoted during his 30 years with the parish. (Screen cap below.)
Of course, there also is the comment from a college-aged member of Lisa Medley’s family, in which she urges me to commit suicide. (Screen cap below.)
So what can an interim do to address this situation? Establishing written norms would be helpful, but unpacking and fixing 30 years’ of Dysfunctional Bob’s toxic behavior and lessons learned within the parish about conflict resolution will probably take professional intervention. Even then, it’s an uphill battle, and both the diocese and church members like to sweep such issues under the rug and deny that an issue exists. Indeed, toxic parishioners like Lisa Medley not only deny that an issue exists, but also attack anyone who raises these issues. (Screen cap below.)
It should also be noted that Dee Parsons, publisher of the Wartburg Watch, herself experienced Bob Malm’s efforts at bullying and manipulating her. First, Bob tried the noisy bluster approach, which didn’t work at all. Then he tried flattery. Then he tried manipulation, claiming that Dee had promised to take down any posts about me, all the while ignoring Dee’s recommendation to work towards reconciliation.
As one looks at other correspondence from within the parish, including Jean Reed’s speculation that I am mentally ill, as well as former friend Kemp Williams comments, one reaches the same conclusion that user Ishy, a commenter on the Wartburg Watch, came to as she asked church members:
“What kind of Christians are you? I don’t see any love or concern for Eric in your posts. I don’t see that you tried to do anything about it other than make sure Eric couldn’t come back either. (Emphasis added. Original in screen cap above.)
That conclusion holds true for Bishop Susan Goff on down to the Grace Church vestry and membership. Nowhere is there any evidence of any real concerns including for Mike and my other family members hurt by Bob Malm’s conduct, and that of the church.
So, if you are a prospective interim and you are reading this, just know that if you take the job you are going to have one toxic mess on your hands, and one that requires professional outside intervention.
On the other hand, if you are a church leader reading this and contemplating hiring Bob Malm as supply clergy, you should know that this is part of the baggage that comes with Bob Malm. Caveat emptor.
Lastly, if you are a prospective member, it is important to know that right behind the beautiful, friendly exterior, this is the sort of internal rot that runs rampant at Grace Church. If you join the parish, this is part of the package deal. To quote Proverbs, “in the tongue is the power of life and death.”