Showing posts with label change management. Show all posts
Showing posts with label change management. Show all posts

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Jason Roberson Pulls a Bob Malm and Argues Alternative Facts

At a time when Grace church is dealing with record declines in giving and participation, there are multiple ways to deal with the situation. Some ways likely will be successful; others not. But one strategy is guaranteed to fail, and that is to argue “alternative facts,” as Jason Roberson attempts to do in the November edition of the church newsletter, Grace Notes. 

Specifically, it’s neither useful, nor helpful, nor truthful, to claim that the parish is “growing and flourishing.” It is not. Not financially, not numerically, not spiritually.

Indeed, it’s in a state of precipitous decline, brought about by years of Bob Malm’s feckless performance as rector and toxic conduct at various levels within the parish, including:
  • Committing perjury, as Bob has done with the assistance and support of Sugarland Chiow and the vestry.
  • Lying to the parish and others by claiming that Mike and I left on our own, as the vestry did via messaging supplied by Bob Malm and Sugarland Chiow.
  • Trying to drag a dying woman into court.
On top of that, I hate to break it to Jason, but folks are not looking at doubling down on their pledges. Or, as one parishioner said to me, “If the church has enough money to pay [church office staff] to sit on their fat asses, do nothing all day, and give me attitude, it doesn’t need my money.”

Same for $3,000 farewell parties for heads of school, rectors who make 200K and are at the beach for a month every summer (but to my knowledge never once turned up, for example, at Carpenter’s Shelter), and the church generally living above its means for years. And let’s not forget that 2014 bonus of 100K the church paid to Bob Malm, which was entirely inappropriate. (One knucklehead, Lisa Medley, asked at the relevant vestry meeting if the amount could be increased to $200,000. “Private inurement,” anyone?)

DC is expensive, and many in this area haven’t had a vacation in years. Even fewer spend a month at the beach each summer. Many in the parish already are tapped out, and few want to dig even deeper to help out. 

Nor should the church count on planned giving as a bailout. Even those of us without kids have folks we want to care for when we are gone, and for many that does not include a church that engages in toxic behavior or turns a blind eye to its rector committing perjury in court.

So, for those still reading, I will tell you what really needs to happen.

First, the church needs to become healthy in every way and truly become a center for healing. Healthy relationships with each other, with God, and with the church’s past, parts of which are remarkably ugly and un-Christian, all are part of the deal. And it needs to take a healthy approach to the challenges facing it, which includes not trying to sweep them under the rug or arguing alternative facts. In other words, don’t claim the church is “growing and flourishing.”

Second, the parish needs to become a real center for outreach. The old Episcopal approach of metaphorically putting a bucket by the sea and waiting for the fish to jump in simply is not working. Three percent of budget for outreach is a joke, even with the food pantry and Haiti being off-budget. And while you’re at it, honor your commitment to the diocese. 70K a year doesn’t cut it.

Third, Grace needs to make a commitment to grow. To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, most churches grow just about as much as they choose to grow, and this is simply something that has never been a priority for the church. And no, Art on the Avenue and a few extra signs on the lawn are not going to cut it.

Fourth, as a near-term tactical matter, the diocese needs to help by providing guidance in situations such as this. While Jason’s efforts were well-intended, it is exactly this sort of mistake that undercuts confidence in the transition and search process. Nor are existing internal vetting processes adequate—church staff and volunteers are simply too close to the issues to exercise the sort of independent judgment needed to avoid missteps of this sort.

So, I appreciate Jason’s positive spin, but it’s counterproductive to pretend that the church doesn’t have issues, or that it is not in decline. It has many serious challenges, some of which have been festering for decades. The sooner the church decides to look the monster right in the eyes, the sooner it can deal with the monster. But ignoring the monster won’t make it go away.

Ignoring the monster will simply result in the monster of decline consuming the church.

Jason Roberson Argues Alternative Facts





Sunday, September 29, 2019

Report from Dysfunctional Bob’s Final Day as Rector

Before we go further, two important reminders for parishioners and staff at Grace Episcopal, aka St. Dysfunction:
  1. When I am protesting, I am filming from at least two vantage points. That means that several of you are now part of internet history, and you and your vehicle, including your license plates, are now publicly posted as you fire off those one-gun salutes to Jesus. You’re also likely to feature prominently in the second release of my video, named Begin with Grace after the school recruiting video, which provides prospective members a first-hand look into parish dynamics. So, it was with great pleasure that I filmed Lisa Medley and five other people today — keep up the good work! They’ll know you are Christians by your love! (Viewers report they especially like the juxtaposition of my sign and parishioners firing off the one-gun salute. Something about really speaking to the church’s compassion.)


  2. Pursuant to Va. Code § 18.2-60.3, I have previously notified the church in writing that I do not want any further contact from members, staff, or diocesan officials. Under that statute, those of you who feel compelled to contact me anyway may face criminal charges for stalking. And if you don’t think I’m enough of a jerk to file charges, try me. 
On that happy note, I protested outside Grace today. It was a great day, and got a chance to talk with multiple neighbors of the church. Also present was the police unit I had requested in light of Bob Malm’s previous episode, in which he drove up to me, climbed out of his vehicle, and began screaming and threatening me. Needless to say, between that and Bob’s questionable connection with reality, including his false claim that he was repeatedly contacted by my mom or someone claiming to be her, I think there is a strong possibility that Bob may be both dangerous and mentally ill.

The unit sat across Russell Road from me and convinced one profoundly foolish parishioner that picking a fight was not a great idea. Leaving aside the obvious issues, coming up to me and yelling, or flipping me off, tends to undercut Dysfunctional Bob and Sugarland Chiow’s claim that people are frightened of me; few approach someone they believe to be dangerous and flip them off.

Speaking of, it is beyond stupid to flip people off while driving. If nothing else, more than one road rage incident has been caused by the ol’ one-gun salute to Jesus, and any police officer worth her or his salt would advise you not to do it. Get a clue, kids. Don’t try this at home.



On a more macro level, the conduct from parishioners that I documented today underscores one of Dysfunctional Bob’s great failings as rector. Specifically, he not only failed to teach effective conflict resolution, but through his example (and that of Sugarland Chiow) he taught parishioners that any sort of conduct is okay if you think it will help you get the upper hand. Lying, committing perjury, trying to drag the dying into court — from Malm’s perspective, it’s all good.

Looking forward, I have several observations:
  • The more Grace parishioners revert to type with the ad hominem attacks, the middle finger, etc., the more they prove my point, which is that Grace at its heart is a toxic church. And the more they prove my point, the faster Grace Church implodes. As for those who have given generously, in some cases for decades, I offer this fair warning: If the church does not address its issues, it will not be too many more years before Grace Church collapses due to declining membership, participation, and giving. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
  • Since parishioners still have not figured it out, I am going to reiterate something I’ve said many times: The church cannot force people to quit speaking about their experiences with the parish. If the church thinks that suing former members, pushing Mike out of the church, lying under oath, calling other Christians “domestic terrorists,” and trying to drag a dying woman into court are okay, so be it. But then the church must live with the consequence, which is lasting reputational damage. And discussion of your conduct is protected by the First Amendment. However, defamation by church members, including public statements accusing me of alcoholism, having AIDS, and being mentally ill, are not. And those parishioners who believe that this conduct, along with urging me to commit suicide etc., will be effective in shutting me down are delusional.
  • Whoever the church chooses as an interim is in for a rough and bumpy ride, assuming the church actually takes things seriously and doesn’t just hire a seat warmer. But if the church does not take things seriously, it will be gone in the not-distant future. No one wants to join a church that bullies the dying and where members treat other the way people at Grace do. In other words, Grace Church is a hot mess, particularly in regard to organizational dynamics, and very little in the conduct of parishioners would suggest that this is the Body of Christ.
  • Parishioners have no idea how toxic their little stained glass cesspool really is. After 30 years of Dysfunctional Bob, much that passes as normative in the church would result in shock and horror elsewhere. Moreover, given the extent of organizational narcissism, it is going to be an uphill battle for an interim to convince people that this is the case.
  • There’s a fair amount of information out there about organizational narcissism, and parishioners and staff alike would be well-advised to read it. I’ll drop one leading hint: A big component is when an organization thinks it’s special. As when Bob Malm says, “I don’t think I’m exaggerating too much, [sic] when I suggest that at Grace Church we know, we practice “true religion”. [sic](Source: Sept. 3, 2017 sermon). And if Grace Church is an example of “true religion,” no thanks. You can keep it.
With that, off for a nice cool shower and some dinner.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

More Signs of Trouble from DioVA

As some of you know, the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia recently announced that there will not be a vote on a Bishop Provisional at this weekend’s general convention. The news was released immediately following Sunday’s farewell reception for bishop Shannon, held at the Virginia Theological Seminary. 

Taken in light of recent events within the diocese, the announcement adds to the growing evidence that the diocese has serious governance issues. These include:
  1. The abrupt resignation this summer of Pat Wingo, who served as the bishop’s assistant, or canon to the ordinary.
  2. The collapse, not long after, of the search for a bishop adjutant, followed by the resignation of Bishop Shannon.
  3. Evidence of multiple bad decisions in the area of clergy discipline, including the diocese’s repeated failure to exercise appropriate supervision over Bob Malm, resulting in profound damage to the reputation of the church due to Bob’s claims of being threatened by terrorists, his decision to take a former parishioner to court, and his decision to try to drag an elderly dying woman into court.
  4. Multiple Title IV Disciplinary cases pending against Bishop Shannon, including one in which it is alleged that he acted to cover up repeated instances of sexual harassment by clergy under his supervision. (The office of the presiding bishop has refused on multiple occasions to update complainants on the status of their cases, raising the possibility of additional attempts at cover-up.)
  5. Signs of major conflict between the executive committee and the trustees of the funds. Not uncommon following litigation, such kerfuffles invariably end badly, and must be addressed immediately if they are to avoid snowballing.
  6. A bishop who, like many clergy, is conflict avoidant and tends to tell people what they want to hear. I have experienced this firsthand.
Of course, the handling of the search for a bishop provisional also is telling. The standing committee has been working on the matter since August 3, 2018, and no doubt knew it had a hot potato on its hands. Moreover, it was likely obvious from the get-go that the pool of applicants would be very limited, given that this is intended to be a three-year gig, the candidate must have previously served as a bishop, and must be under age 69 in order to comply with the canonically mandated retirement age of 72. All of this, at a time when a large number of bishop positions are open. Thus, it surely made sense to have both a Plan B and a Plan C in place, such that the diocese would not again have egg on its face if the search process ran into problems. Yet, here we sit, with the diocese now thoroughly covered in egg.

So, the more things change the more they stay the same. The diocese remains a hot mess, governance is in a shambles, and it’s the Wild, Wild West when it comes to clergy discipline within the diocese. And now, matters are compounded by a power vacuum at the top, for if there’s anything worse than an incompetent bishop, it’s governance via committee.

But the most telling sign of serious trouble in the diocese comes via the wry observation of a friend of mine, a Episcopal priest for more than 50 years. Many years ago, he said, “As a priest, you know you’re in trouble when the bishop starts saying nice things about you in public.” And so it is with Bishop Shannon, on whom the presiding bishop heaped fulsome praise following the announcement of his retirement.

Things surely are a hot mess in The Episcopal Diocese of Virginia.






Sunday, August 12, 2018

Fanny Belanger and the Winds of Change at Grace Episcopal Church Alexandria

As most members of St. Dysfunction aka Grace Episcopal Church know, Fanny Belanger is leaving as assistant rector of the parish after one year. The news probably spells further bad news for the church.

In times of trouble, it’s important to maintain stability. We saw that happen, for example, at St. Thomas’ McLean, when following the abrupt departure of the rector, the vocational deacon (truly a wonderful person), stayed after her originally planned date of retirement. She did this in order to afford stability to a parish that was in the midst of turmoil; the cost to her and her family was considerable, as she unexpectedly wound up with two mortgage payments for the better part of a year. That is an example of servant leadership, in which personal needs took second place to the needs of the parish.

In the case of Grace Church, the parish is sorely in need of relational and pastoral stability. Massive expenses, which until now have been ignored, are bearing down on the parish to the tune of millions of dollars. At the same time, Bob Malm, true to form, is not going to let a little thing like the welfare of his church intrude on the annual pilgrimage to Massachusetts. In fact, you can be damned sure he’ll take all the leave provided for in his otherwise largely irrelevant letter of agreement, and possibly more if he can find an excuse. (That ignores the fact that four weeks at the beach with Bob Malm sounds like hell on earth. Or maybe the furnace room of hell on a hot day.)

In Fanny’s case, most assistant rectors stay for three years. That’s not a bad approach, as assistant rectors are much like employees in other settings—their first year largely is spent learning the ropes, and they don’t bring a ton of value until they’re well into their second year. And parish life is a complex thing—there are lots of ins and outs to learn, and it’s common to make mistakes as clergy get acclimated to a new parish. So, it is not clear that, in the greater scheme of things, Fanny’s time with the parish produced much lasting benefit to either side.

At the same time, Bob Malm cannot serve more than another five years per church canons absent permission from the bishop, and the latter rarely is granted. Even five years, though, probably is not a good thing, as there’s little doubt that Bob is burned out, and his missteps in pursuing litigation against a dying woman have made clear to even Bob’s most ardent supporters just how thin his personal faith truly is. Or, as one friend puts it, “Bob knows the words, but not the song.” And Jeff Chiow’s malevolent advocacy, which can only be done at the direction of his client, underscores the systemic issues in the church. All of which is a nice way of saying that the church is toxic, and the toxic sludge is bubbling to the surface, spilling out in all directions.

So what next? 

One key thing will be to find an assistant rector with really good spiritual and change management skills. When Bob does fly the coop, there will be a whole lot of turmoil in the parish, as many have never experienced anyone else in that position. And given Bob’s willingness to both tolerate and encourage bad behavior among church members (including setting his own bad example), you can be sure there will be plenty of people who won’t exactly show kindness to each other. In short, things are going to get ugly, and it will take a brave soul, particularly as an interim, to say, “That’s not how we show love to one another.”

Things will be excarbated by the fact that there will be plenty of work on the physical plant that needs to be done, and major projects likely will still be afoot when Bob does retire. To make matters worse, Bob’s aloof approach to things will make it very difficult to forge consensus on priorities and funding prior to that time. And, as always, there is absolutely no vision for the future, no strategic planning (and very little tactical planning), and next to no outreach. (A few banners and Art on the Avenue do not outreach make. Sorry to spring it on you, folks.)

There’s another wrinkle in things, which is that a new bishop is in the mix. My feeling is that history will judge +Shannon to have been the right bishop for the extended litigation with the CANA crowd, but a very poor fit when it comes to other issues, including supervision of clergy and staff and organizational dynamics. (I was impressed by the way he started to “slip past” issues when the search for a third bishop came screeching to a halt. What was initially posited as issues that included leadership very quickly became matters involving staff learning to work together. That sort of lip service to accountability, accompanied by the quick brush-off of real issues, is all too common in The Episcopal Church. The reality is that organizations take their cue from the top. Or, as one church staff member said of problems at St. Dysfunction aka Grace Episcopal Church, “and it goes right to the top,” referring to Bob Malm.)

Hopefully, the standing committee will have the wisdom to call a bishop who is both good at organizational dynamics, and a genuinely loving, spiritual person. Bishop Shannon’s great failing has been his willingness to tolerate bad conduct among the clergy and staff he supervises, versus saying, “That’s not how we do things around here.” There’s also a tremendous need for transparency—far too many diocesan decisions are made behind closed doors. And the new bishop would improve things on a great many fronts by reaching out to those who have been hurt by the diocese — including my mother, in the unlikely event she is still alive — and trying to fix things. Of course, doing so requires more than saying, “I’m sorry.” It requires restitution and repentance — an effort to actually fix the damage that has been done. Unfortunately, +Shannon, like many in The Episcopal Church, has a deeply flawed theology of forgiveness and accountability. Not to mention an almost total lack of understanding of the church’s disciplinary canons.

The good news for Grace Church is that there are many deeply committed members. With the right interim, healthy guidance and support from a healthy diocese, and the right choice for rector, Grace may well make it. At the same time, things certainly could go the other way. Another Bob Malm, who is cordial but lacks any real faith, will be a disaster, and may well spell the end of the parish. And it will be vital that whoever comes next focuses first on the needs of the parish, versus Bob’s approach of seemingly believing that he’s somehow special and thus entitled. As in entitled to ignore the parts of his job that he doesn’t like. Or demanding that the church pay for his seedy personal residence.

In short, going forward the parish simply cannot afford another rector whose primary focus appears to be on his own needs and wants. Instead, it is going to require a rector who digs in, gets to know people one-on-one, strives to meet their needs, helps them grow spiritually, and who leads by example. The days of paying for a bishop, but getting the equivalent of a long-term interim priest, are fast drawing to a close. The parish will be a very different place in another 10 years, if it is still around, and you can quote me on that.