Grace Church has a problem. Not just one problem, but one really big problem. Specifically, the interim/transition process is not going to succeed.
To be fair, there are some incremental improvements under Michael Guy. But long-term success simply isn’t going to happen.
The problem is that Grace Church is an isolated system. Yes, it has some external interfaces with the diocese, but those are limited to information that flows through Michael Guy and the vestry. And that information is filtered via a constant, which is the family system in the parish.
What does that mean in practice?
Primarily that the parish survey and other data obtained during the transition process reflects only the views of those who have stayed throughout Bob Malm’s reign of feckless, narcissistic indifference. Thus, survey results are inherently skewed towards those who think Grace Church is wonderful, or at least tolerable. That omits the experiences of the dozens of people who have left the parish in recent years. the loss of 1/3 of its pledging units, and the breach of trust evinced by Bob Malm’s decision to try to drag a dying woman into court, his perjury, his lies, his smear campaigns and more. And even otherwise sensible individuals either turn a blind eye to these issues, or actively provide support.
Consider: Sugarland Chiow and his family remain members of the church and attend regularly, despite his written claims that the church is the victim of “domestic terrorism.” What kind of husband or parent exposes his wife and children to a situation that he claims involves “domestic terrorism?” One has to wonder.
Thus, as a closed system, members perpetuate the notion that all is well at Grace Church and resoundingly reject anyone who says otherwise. Anyone who disagrees gets tagged as “dysfunctional,” which is Bob Malm’s not-so-Christian label for anyone who disagrees with him. And folks like Jean Reed, Kemp Williams, and Kelly Gable feel free to wade in with their gossip and speculation — but never with any concern for the person they claim is “dysfunctional.” In short, Grace is a goofy loop of narcissistic self-ratification with no external reference point.
Nor will the diocese be of any help. It refuses to address the problems in the parish, and adamantly refuses to tell the truth, even going so far as to trot out the specious argument that Bob Malm is not perjurer on the grounds that he hasn’t been convicted. I guess the same logic applies to sexual misconduct: Clergy cannot, for example, be child molesters unless they have been convicted. After all, molesting children is illegal, right?
The sad reality is that Grace Church needs truthtelling. It needs to see itself as others see it. It needs to understand that bullying, hateful comments, mobbing, gossip (the speculation about married men in the parish being gay is particularly ugly), and more are neither normal nor acceptable in a healthy church.
So how will the church gain perspective? A good start is being going outside the church’s closed system and surveying the world outside its doors. What do school staff think about the church? Former members? Members of other parishes? Church members in other denominations? What would former members say if asked why they left? What are their thoughts on how the church responds to conflict? Such data should be requested both via the website and in-person listening sessions.
(I’ll give you a hint: It is entirely inappropriate for clergy to try to label people who disagree with them as “dysfunctional”. It’s even more inappropriate to make those statements in emails to diocesan officials. And still more inappropriate for Shannon “Two-Faced” Johnston to accept these sorts of communications from clergy. See below.)
Much of the feedback that would come in would be unsettling. Some would be downright ugly, as it reflects Bob’s ugly conduct. But as Bob Malm said in his communication to the Grace vestry, when he disseminated his facially untruthful “talking points,” “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.”
As things stand, Grace Church, its leadership and the diocese are wedded to Bob Malm’s perjury and other misconduct. As such, they are imprisoned by the toxic legacy of Bob Malm.