Showing posts with label Transition. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Transition. Show all posts

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

As Interim Starts at Grace Episcopal Alexandria, Questions Remain


As Grace Episcopal prepares to welcome the Rev. Michael B. Guy, Sr. as interim rector, questions remain about the parish’s direction and ability to transition successfully to a new rector.

First, some background. Guy is ordained in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, or ELCA, which is in full communion with The Episcopal Church. Formerly pastor at a predominantly African-American church in Baltimore, he also has served as interim senior pastor at Resurrection ELCA in North Arlington. Guy also is known to have participated in ecumenical activities with The Episcopal Church.

Meanwhile, Grace’s pledge season is under way. The usual loyal givers have pledged, with an average annual pledge increasing to just under $4,000. Others will follow suit, with final results based in some measure on how people feel about the church’s direction during the coming months. To the church’s credit, it appears to be stepping back from Bob Malm’s “let’s say as little as possible,” approach, which all but guarantees declines in giving. (Hint to Malmites who read this: Lack of transparency is deadly to churches.)

But will Grace fully welcome Guy? That remains to be seen. After 30 years of Dysfunctional Bob and his congenial but faith-free approach to Christianity, how will folks react to a rector who has no experience with the Anglo-Catholic tradition?

On the one hand, Guy’s loose denominational ties may stand him in good stead. More than one Episcopal priest with knowledge of the situation at Grace has said that there is not enough money in all of Christendom to convince them to serve as interim at Grace. Not only are 30 years of Malm’s feckless performance as rector a difficult precedent, but the organizational narcissism at Grace goes to its very core. And no one wants the ocean of conflict at Grace to attach to their professional reputation, particularly since the church’s precipitous decline in recent years places it at heightened risk of closure. So Guy’s distance from diocesan politics and other intra-church nonsense may be helpful.

On the other hand, there are indications that the inevitable comparisons to Malm already have begun. Guy clearly does not display the same interpersonal attributes as Bob, and his writing seems stiffer than Bob’s. At the same time, he appears to take his faith seriously, which is a profound change from Bob. And somehow I don’t see Guy staying up until the wee hours at Shrine Mont, loudly socializing as the people around him get plastered.

It also will be interesting to see how race plays out. While Grace has a long record of being inclusive, it has never had an African-American rector, as will be the case with Guy, and the percentage of minorities in the pews is shockingly low given the composition of the surrounding community. Nor is being a minority protection against conflict emanating from the altar guild and other special interest groups in the parish.

Most challenging, though, is dealing with the wake of Bob’s narcissism. For years, the whole modus operandi at the parish has been Bob drawing attention to himself, versus God, seeking adulation at every turn. Such an approach is toxic to the long-term health of any church, yet there is no sign that Guy,  the vestry, or the diocese recognize that this is the underlying challenge at the church. Nor is there any sign that they have the skill sets to address these problems. Moreover, the first time the good Christian ladies of the altar guild or choir feel that Guy has tramped on their toes, he’s going through the grist mill, rear end first.

Complicating things is the tendency in the diocese to sweep matters under the rug and hope that they will go away — an approach Bob used for any issue he didn’t feel like dealing with. Missing money? It will get resolved eventually. Utterly useless and ineffective staff? Don’t worry about it—they’ll be retiring this year. Misconduct by staff? It will have to wait until after my vacation.

But if the diocese and parish don’t deal with the elephant in the living room, sooner or later the elephant will get restless and ultimately demolish the living room. Nor would this be the first time that the diocese has said, and I quote, “Just hang in there ‘til we can get someone in there.”

In short, unless the parish and diocese are prepared to deal directly with these issues, it’s not too much longer before Grace church closes its doors for good.  Unfortunately, 30 years of Bob Malm may be an experience from which the parish simply cannot recover.



Thursday, October 17, 2019

Grace Episcopal’s Website and Transition Issues



One of the first things that should happen in a successful church transition is to formally let go of the old and open the door to the new. Ensuring that this happens normally is the job of the diocesan transition minister working in conjunction with the vestry. But this doesn’t appear to be happening at Grace, particularly apropos the web site. So here are my suggestions for the website, which should have happened shortly after Bob’s farewell,
  1. Assuming the content was appropriate, Bob Malm’s final sermon should have been posted promptly. I raise the issue of appropriateness because some of Bob’s farewell content, including his top-ten lists, was not appropriate, given his reference to the diocese being a challenge. That said, it it important for the departing priest to leave on good terms, and to express her or his support for the transition. Indeed, it is a final act of ministry to the church and its people, and people need time to process and reflect,
  2. The photos of Bob need to go and should be replaced with photos of the people of the church. We don’t need to see Bob with his back to the congregation at the altar, nor the closeup of Bob’s hideous homegrown hair color and terrible transplant. It’s unflattering, and content on the site needs to look forward, not back to the past,
  3. Given that discussions have been happening behind the scenes for some time between the diocese and the vestry, a printed road map of the transition process should already have been posted. It can and should be confined to a high-level summary, but after 30 years of Dysfunctional Bob, few in the parish even remember what happens when there is a transition. This information provides reassurance, particularly since verbal updates during the adult forum often won’t be fully remembered, or will be misunderstood. And there will be plenty of elderly folks and others who can’t make the forum.
  4. It’s time to reverse course and become transparent. Bob and other church “leaders” decided to pull the vestry’s minutes from the site in order to deny me access to information and in order to avoid raising issues with potential lenders for the HVAC project, many of whom would be alarmed at the precipitous decline in pledging units and Sunday attendance, as well as the extent of conflict in th parish. But as Kemp Williams noted in one of his emails, I continue to have full access to data from the parish, and banks aren’t stupid either. So the only thing that a lack of transparency engenders is anxiety among members and additional questions. In other words, you can’t fix the church’s declining fortunes without discussing the issues, and church members have a right to know about these issues. You can’t expect members to just give blindly. And no interim worth having is going to take the gig without fully understanding the. extent of the mess she inherits. Moreover, lack of transparency is both a sign of poor governance and a red flag to anyone considering joining. Budgets, annual reports, minutes, monthly financials, church policies all need to go up on the site.
  5. The website needs to otherwise be current. Signup for foyers and Easter celebrations don’t cut it, folks. The lack of current content and the delay in posting sermons sends a message of a church in trouble,
  6. Someone with an experienced eye needs to go through and assess imagery on the site. The web is becoming more and more visual, and the volume of image searches continues to skyrocket. So why, for instance, are you posting images of the columbarium at night? Hardly helpful. Think spring, think people, think children, think puppies, think happy times at Shrine Mont. Those are the messages you want to send.
  7. As the church develops the content needed for a successful search, it’s important not to pull the usual Grace trick of trying to sweep issues under the rug. Conduct within the parish has been shocking and appalling over the last few years, replete with Bob Malm’s perjury, the church suing its members, trying to drag a terminally ill woman into court, calling other Christians “domestic terrorists,” and bullying innocent family members out of the Christian faith. While much of the damage that has been done is irreparable, coming to terms with these issues and understanding how they fit in with the baptismal covenant and the obligation to repent of one’s sins is essential if the church is to move forward successfully. Personally, I am not sanguine about the church’s ability in this area, particularly given that the diocese does not recognize the importance of these matters, but it still needs to be said. Moreover, given the very public nature of my dispute with Bob Malm and the public court records he has filed, it is appropriate that these issues be addressed publicly, possibly including on the website.
Grace Church, you surely are a mess.