Friday, October 11, 2019

Look Before You Leap: 12 Questions Prospective Interims Should Ask



If you’re a prospective interim rector at Grace Church and reading this, good for you. 

I mean it—the fact that you’re doing your homework is a good sign. 

A key observation from my years at Grace Church is that, like many toxic organizations, words don’t mean what you think they do. For example, you and I may think that “pastoral care” has one meaning, but look behind the curtain and it has come to mean something very different at Grace Church. That’s not surprising, as problematic clergy typically shift the narrative over time.

So, since my conflict with Bob Malm and the parish in many ways both illustrates and underscores the problems at the church, here are some questions you might ask of diocesan officials and vestry members before you take the plunge. And while the answers to some are damning indeed, and you may thus be tempted to discount the answers, I encourage you to really dig in and understand this information. My belief is that, if you do, you will have a fighting chance of fixing the mess that is Grace Church.

Here we go:
  1. Did Bob Malm or the vestry ever discuss these issues one-on-one with Eric and his family? If so, what happened?
  2. In the church’s legal pleadings, Bob Malm and the church assert that Eric is mentally ill. How did they reach this conclusion? Did they ever discuss it with Eric? If they believed that Eric was mentally ill, did they ever attempt to arrange care for Eric?
  3. In the court documents that Malm filed, one of the reasons he cited under oath for his belief that her blog is really Eric’s work is that Eric’s mother, Sigrid Yahner, or someone claiming to be her, repeatedly made appointments with Malm and no-showed. Eric claims this is a lie/perjury. Can I see records that show this really happened?
  4. The diocese stated that it would not investigate Eric’s claim that Malm committed perjury unless the latter faced criminal charges. Is that normal policy for allegations of misconduct involving potentially criminal behavior? If not, why did the diocese take this approach?
  5. Early in the conflict, Eric asked the diocese to mediate the conflict. The diocese dismissed this request outright. Why?
  6. Eric claims that Bob Malm instructed church staff to exclude him and his husband from the parish and has an email that appears to show that this is the case. Yet the vestry’s talking points say Eric left on his own. Which is true and how do we know?
  7. Some of Jeffery Chiow’s language in his court documents is over the top, like referring to the conflict as a case of “domestic terrorism,” calling Eric a “serial liar,” and more. Why did the church take this approach? Do you think it was helpful? Similarly, Malm refers to Eric in email to the diocese as “sick,” “twisted,” and “dysfunctional.” Did anyone at the diocese ever object to this? If not, why not?
  8. Vestry minutes show that the vestry knew and approved of Bob’s efforts to take Eric to court. What was the vestry’s role in this matter? How did it effect oversight?
  9. At one point, Eric alleged that the church had illegally misused memorial donations, yet the diocese refused to get involved. Is this normal practice when allegations of misuse of funds come to the attention of the diocese?
  10. The diocese states in writing that these matters were investigated and resolved long ago and that the diocese fully supports Bob Malm. Who was the investigator? Is that person professionally trained as an investigator? Were the allegations of misuse of funds ever addressed by an auditor or law enforcement? Why does the diocese say the matter was resolved when the conflict clearly continues?
  11. In light of the tremendous damage this conflict has caused the parish and the larger church, is it still the diocese’s position that it fully supports Bob Malm? Has bishop Goff ever sat down with Eric to try to understand this conflict?
  12. From your perspective, can this conflict be resolved? What would it take to do so? Are there lessons learned from this conflict? How do you see this conflict affecting the parish a year from now? Ten years from now?