Showing posts with label interim ministry. Show all posts
Showing posts with label interim ministry. Show all posts

Friday, November 22, 2019

Worthy Read: When Narcissism Comes to Church

I’ve been reading a lot lately, and there’s a good book that sums up perfectly my experiences with perjuring priest Bob Malm and Grace Episcopal church. Titled, When Narcissism Comes to Church the book is written by David Orrison.

Following is an excerpt from his blog that well describes the organizational narcissism at Grace
Church:
Too many people have found the church, the institutional local church, to be uncaring and so wrapped up in preserving its image that it will support the abuser in hopes that the victim will just go away and be quiet. We saw another example of this in the news this past week. Another church worker abused a young girl, and the church leaders just moved him to another place. Why does this happen? How can this happen in the church?
The answer is this overwhelming concern for image. In their drive to be seen as superior, some churches would rather ignore the victims than deal with the scandal. When hurting people can be ignored for the sake of the superior image, that’s narcissism. 
Christians expect to be able to go to church leadership when they are hurting. When they are pushed away, or sin is covered up, something is very wrong. Narcissism creeps in to depersonalize and victimize.
 Of course, this paradigm is problematic in the near-term for multiple reasons, including:

  • The fact that Bob Malm, who seems to me to have been the narcissist-in-chief for the past 30 years, is now gone.
  • No healthy priest with a good handle on organizational dynamics is likely to want to serve as rector; only another narcissist could or would fit the bill. 
  • Like any narcissist, the organizational narcissist that is Grace Church sees nothing wrong with its current conduct or attitudes, in which people are drawn to Bob Malm, versus God, and any behavior is justified as long as it meets Bob Malm’s perceived needs, and by extension those of the organization.
  • The diocese is every bit as clueless and organizationally narcissistic as are Bob Malm and Grace Church. Thus, with the diocese fully supporting the current situation at Grace Church, there is zero chance of meaningful change.
Thus, Grace needs to transform from a religion club to a church—a sea change that goes to the very heart of its existence. Unless it does so, it will eventually cease to exist, and yet it remains wedded to its current modus operandi.

By the way, there’s a good post on Dave’s blog about branding, differentiation, and religion, located here. If you read the post, keep in the back of your mind Grace’s role as the only full-time Anglo-Catholic parish in Northern VA. Think too, of Bob Malm’s claim that, “I don’t think I’m exaggerating too much, when I suggest that at Grace Church we know, we practice “true religion”. (Sept. 3, 2017 sermon)

This, from a church where the rector commits perjury, deliberately misuses funds, instructs staff to shun members, and tries to drag the dying into court.


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.



Sunday, November 17, 2019

Perjuring Priest Bob Malm Reportedly Serving as Interim at St. Gabriel’s in Marion Massachusetts



Reliable sources tell me that perjuring priest Bob Malm is headed to St. Gabriel’s in Marion Massachusetts, where he will serve as interim.

Located in the area in which Bob grew up, the new calling affords Bob the opportunity to live in an area familiar to him, and where his late mother’s family is well known.

It would be interesting to see how the new parish deals with Bob’s issues. While he doubtless attributes the latter to a “disgruntled former parishioner,” the facts should speak loudly to diocesan and parish officials:
  • Declining Grace Church membership and pledging units since 2014.
  • Trying to drag a dying woman into court.
  • Going after innocent family members.
  • Lying to church members repeatedly, including his vestry.
  • Committing perjury.
Yes, Bob can turn on the superficial charm, but friendly isn’t the same as faithful. Folks at St. Gabriel’s are well-advised not to conflate the two. Let’s just hope that St. Gabriel’s, which presently has an ASA of 120 and growing giving, is not injured by Bob Malm’s toxic conduct.

It’s also worth noting that Bob, to my knowledge, has no formal interim training.

To read more about St. Gabriel’s, visit http://stgabrielsmarion.weebly.com/

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.




Thursday, September 12, 2019

My Advice to Potential Interims: Run!





Analysis of the recent surge in traffic to this website reveals that a great many visitors to the site are clergy and others interested both in issues at Grace church and the possibility of serving as the interim rector. With that in mind, here is my advice to anyone considering serving as interim: Run. Like. Hell.

Let’s start with the lay of the land.

Problems in the Parish

Dysfunctional Bob “served” for more than 30 years. That in itself is an issue, because you’re not coming in after someone has made a hash of things for a few years, then moved on. Instead, you’ve got three decades of dysfunction, misfeasance and nonfeasance. As a result, only a handful of parishioners have known anything other than the so-called Planet Malm paradigm.

Why do I refer to the church as Planet Malm? The other handle sometimes used for the place, “Bobby Malm’s Playground,” speaks to that issue. Simply put, Grace Church is all about Bob Malm. He decides who serves on the Executive Committee, thus ensuring a rubber-stamp vestry. As a result, there’s zero accountability for Bob or church staff. No annual performance review, no annual mutual ministry review. Or, as one former assistant rector of the parish says, “Bob’s been getting away with murder for years.” And while Bob’s friendly, there is zero genuine concern for others. Instead, the church is all about meeting Bob’s needs

Bob’s also been very clever in playing to the whole “lay-driven church” thing. Bob claims, and rightly so, that laity at the church are responsible for the day-to-day functioning of the church. What this means is that things like church administration, facilities issues, and programmatic activities all fall to laity. In other words, Bob simply doesn’t get involved in the food pantry, Carpenter’s Shelter, planning Shrine Mont, or much of anything else. His role is liturgy, answering emails, and very limited pastoral care—as in Bob will show up for a few minutes, smile, chat, give you a hug and dash off.  But with a vestry that reports to Bob, and where Bob can bypass or overrule the vestry at any time, the result is that even basics, like ensuring that cash is handled appropriately, were ignored by Bob for much of his tenure. Consider: thousands of dollars in cash and stale checks were found in the office of a previous parish administrator following her departure. Are we really to assume that no one ever called to ask why these checks were never cashed? What does this tell people about the church, its clergy/staff, and its “stewardship?”

Moreover, Dysfunctional Bob uses this paradigm to dismiss anyone who claims he’s abusive, arguing that laity would not put up with things like gross mismanagement. But the reality is that laity has done exactly that for many years, lacking any meaningful recourse.

Predictably enough, Bob exploits this paradigm to his personal advantage. His annual compensation exceeds that of even top denominational officials, despite a demonstrably mediocre track record.  His insistence that the church tear down the rectory and help him buy a personal residence was a financially disastrous move for the parish, and one that he bullied through a reluctant vestry. And Bob pretty much comes and goes as he pleases.

It is in the matter of Bob’s 2014 bonus of $100,000 in the form of debt he owed the church that one really begins to understand this situation. “Negotiated” by two members of the executive committee directly with Bob (one’s husband is a regular golfing buddy of Bob’s), this was an outrageously large bonus for a feckless rector, particularly in light of the looming massive expenses facing the church. Yet members of the vestry supported the measure, with vestry member Lisa Medley even suggesting that the bonus be $200,000.

Why did vestry members make such an ill-advised decision? The answer is that, like many narcissists, Bob is good at turning on the superficial flattery and charm. He’s also very good at manipulating people and playing them against each other, with the result that conflict is rife in the parish.

Nor should one be misled by Bob’s claim that he doesn’t like conflict, which he trots out when faced with demands to address conflict within the parish. The reality is that his claim is true in part, in that he doesn’t like to do anything that will engender criticism. Yet the larger truth is that Bob often foments conflict among parishioners. His favorite tactic is to make himself out to be the friend, ally, and supporter, while claiming that others are hostile. As a result, people glob on to Bob, never realizing that he actually is the source of the underlying conflict. Much like Donald Trump, Bob exploits this paradigm to meet his own perceived needs, both oblivious and indifferent to the underlying harm he is causing the larger organization.

By now, astute readers will have concluded that, like Trump, Bob may be a narcissist. I believe that conclusion is spot on, and that Dysfunctional Bob exhibits other signs of possible narcissism and psychological maladjustment, including a propensity for lying. Whether it’s his claim that church office employees will be “retiring this year” (a lie he told repeatedly over the years), or his claims in writing, under oath, made with the advice of legal counsel that my mom or someone claiming to be her repeatedly made appointments with him and no-showed, Bob demonstrates a shocking lack of integrity, particularly for a priest.

In short. Bob’s tenure with the parish has produced a church that, not surprisingly, is much like him: Outwardly friendly and welcoming, while lacking inward faith and integrity, with a strong bias towards real or perceived self-interest, and willing to engage in virtually any behavior to meet its own needs.

Dysfunction at the Diocese

Things are no better at the diocese. Over the past few years, the diocese has repeatedly refused to deal with Bob Malm’s misconduct, even in the face of clear evidence that Bob has engaged in illegal activity. The latter includes perjury and deliberate misuse of restricted solicitations. Indeed, I am told by one church official that Bishop Shannon expressly understood that Bob’s misuse of funds was illegal, but still did not want to get involved.

The diocese also has ignored both church canons and the recommendations of its own officials. For instance, Title IV intake officer Rev. Randall Prior recommended that the church engage in conciliation of my conflict with Bob, only to be ignored by Bishop Shannon. In fact, when it did so, the diocese ignored the canonical requirement of providing written notice of its decision, instead simply falling silent. Hardly reassuring, especially coming from a diocese that had just spent seven years caterwauling to the courts about the canons and their applicability to dissidents who had left the organization.

Even more disturbingly, the diocese has said that there’s no point in its getting involved, as reconciliation is not possible. But reconciliation is not the only goal of church disciplinary canons; justice is also an objective. Nor did the diocese ever ask if I wanted to be reconciled with Bob. I don’t, as reconcilation is neither possible nor desirable when dealing with someone with Bob’s level of dysfunction.

In short, the diocese is part and parcel of the problem, for it is dysfunction at the diocese that has allowed the mess at Grace Church to take on a life of its own.

Trouble at Grace, a Stained Glass Slice of Paradise

So what does all this mean for an interim and the stained glass slice of paradise that is Grace Church?

Primarily, it means that problems within the parish will not not easily fixed. Part of the problem is that the issues that loom largest for the church are actually symptoms of bigger problems. For example, plummeting revenue and attendance at the church are seen by members of the church as themselves being challenges, while the real issues are the causes of these declines. These causes include organizational narcissism, troubled interpersonal relationships, and a lack of understanding what it means to be the Body of Christ. In other words, the parish has become much like Dysfunctional Bob: outwardly friendly, but in a narcissistic way, with all sorts of meanness right behind the scenes and a lack of self-awareness. Church members simply do not see that the place is toxic.

Predictably enough, people are very used to Bob’s way of doing things, and change will be met with resistance, a lack of understanding, and a lack of charity. (Keep in mind this is a church and diocese in which Bob Malm writes to diocesan officials, calling me “sick” and “twisted.”) Yet at the same time the challenge is to become a church, versus a religion club. This is a sea change akin to the challenges that faced The Falls Church and the Church of the Epiphany following the property recovery litigation, and it’s a massive effort, complicated by the fact that there is no external enemy akin to the “Orthodox Anglicans.”

In the case of my conflict with Bob, which in many ways is the least of the church’s problems, Bob’s all-out effort to pull members of the church in to the conflict and to create fear among parishioners, complete with his ridiculous BS about mental illness and “single-button emergency transmitters,” etc., will make it very hard for folks to reverse course and approach the issue with clarity. Even otherwise intelligent, reasonable people have fallen prey to Bob’s manipulation, and few appear to see how laughable it is to claim to be “servants of Christ,” while failing to show any love or compassion for those who are the subjects of their gossip and speculation. It’s also worth noting that I am allegedly neither the first nor the second person that Bob has tried to push out of the church; long-time members say this is a pattern of behavior on Bob’s part.

Even more laughable are people like David Crosby, who see fit to lecture me on being hateful, yet turn a blind eye to Bob Malm’s perjury. But I can say with certainty that neither David, nor anyone else at Grace, has ever seen evidence of those alleged appointments that Mom — or someone claiming to be her — made with Bob Malm. Yet David and many others continue to support a priest who commits perjury and bullies the dying. In other words, Bob may not literally be getting away with murder, but he is literally getting away with perjury.

At the same time, any potential interim faces a grim reality, which is that the diocese, which should be leading the charge to fix things at Grace, is worse than no help at all. Diocesan officials are fine with Bob’s perjury and bullying of a dying woman, and have refused to address Bob’s forcing Mike out of the Christian faith. So the diocese is not going to provide air cover and lacks the ethical underpinnings to act as an honest broker going forward. Moreover, given the track record of diocesan officials, it would be difficult for anyone to take the diocese seriously at this point, even if it attempts that role. Indeed, the role of the diocese seems best confined to lamenting slavery and reflecting on reproductive rights, versus actually addressing real-world conflict. And the diocese lacks the self-awareness and Christian ethics needed to examine its own extensive role, both in my conflict with Bob and with the larger mess that is Grace Church, to wade in, accept responsibility, and fix things. Nor does the diocese have a great track record in that regard, for it made a hash of things over at St. Thomas’ McLean and managed to violate virtually every best practice out there regarding care for a church injured by allegations of misconduct, while conveniently ignoring church canons as well.

Of course, as Bob likes to say, “Charity starts at home.” While this is an ironic statement for a priest whose noisy fights with his wife are legendary, it underscores the reality that a denomination that cannot fix problems in its own house is unlikely to be able to do much to fix the issues in the world around it.

In closing

In closing, problems at Grace church far exceed the scope of a single post. These problems start with a lack of introspection, and are threaded through every aspect of church life, up to and including the diocese itself. Moreover, they go back many years, meaning that no interim, no matter how skilled or diligent, can fully resolve all or even most of these issues. Much like an alcoholic, who can only get better when he or she hits bottom and decides it’s time to change, so too can Grace Church only become healthy once it has hit rock bottom and decides something has to give. And for this to be successful, the diocese must also embrace a healthy approach, both to the parish and to its relationship with the parish. 

The analogy to an alcoholic goes even further. Much like the drunk who lashes out at those who try to intervene, potential interims need to understand that members of the parish will have no compunction against trying to obstruct their efforts, or throwing them under the bus. One has only to look at the ugly comments coming from within the church, including the college-aged parishioner who urged me to commit suicide, to realize just how sick Grace Church really is. And the Jean Reeds of the place can bloviate all they want to about defamation, etc., but Bob Malm’s perjury, his manipulative behavior, his bullying, and even the comments from the parishioner about suicide are all documented in writing.

Fixing the mess at Grace Church is a Herculean task, and I have yet to meet the interim who is up to the challenge. But if you are a prospective interim and considering taking on the job, I urge you to do your homework before signing on the dotted line. You are in for a rough and rocky road.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Understanding Interim Ministry

One of the things that looms large for Grace Church is the need for an interim rector. But do folks at the parish understand what interim ministry is, and what it does? More importantly does the diocese understand the importance of interim ministry? The answers are not clear, but one thing is certain: A successful interim ministry is essential for Grace Church’s future.

So what is interim ministry?

Interim ministry grew out of studies by the Alban Institute after years of failed calls and an effort to understand what was happening and why. What they discovered is that there is a natural developmental process that occurs and it can be facilitated and it can be blocked or undermined, accidentally or deliberately.

Not everyone who does interim ministry is trained or has a clue what an interim should be doing. Here are the stages.
  • Coming to terms with history
  • Clarifying identity
  • Raising up new leadership
  • Developing denominational linkages
  • Welcoming a new rector
When a call results in a new rector leaving within 2-3 years, it’s almost always a sign of a failed interim process. Yet for all the change DioVA has experienced in recent years, including the property recovery litigation, the diocese has a very mixed record in this department. For example, the rebuilding of The Falls Church seemingly has gone well, despite the need for the continuing congregation to again learn what it means to be a church. The Church of the Epiphany Herndon got off to a very bumpy start, but has done well under the current rector. St. Thomas’ McLean, which had a clergy disciplinary case a few years ago, was a bloody disaster marked by a clueless diocese that refused to provide meaningful pastoral care to the parish during the transition, redeemed only by the arrival of the current rector, who by all accounts is wonderful and very healing. In the case of St. Thomas,’ there was no real interim ministry, and the damage was lasting.

In the case of Grace, Bob’s legacy is a very troubled parish, with a lot of work to do. Sadly, very few within the parish recognize the extent of the issues, or in many cases, that there’s any issue at all. Thus, it will take a courageous interim to surface these issues, and to create a safe environment to work towards resolution and healing.

To make matters worse, it is not clear that the diocese recognizes the problems at Grace. As I’ve said before, the diocese has an unparalleled ability to mess up even the best situation, and it can be both remarkably clueless and amoral. So there’s a real possibility that the diocese will not recognize the issues at hand until it’s too late. And frankly, the diocese should have recognized long ago the problems at Grace, but it either didn’t, or ignored the problems. But then, this is the diocese that had an ACNA clergy person on the staff at Mayo House, so no suprises there.

So, what can parishioners do to ensure success? My suggestion is to learn as much as possible about the interim process, what it involves, and what the outcomes are supposed to be. And if the diocese blows you off — as it may well do — you need to insist. There simply is no room for failure. 

Similarly, you need parishioners to understand the issue, understand why it’s important, and why the church is headed for very difficult times if the interim period fails. Vestry members and other leaders need to take ownership of these issues, and to help members understand that the parish has no future if members are going to behave as they have during Bob’s time with the parish. There is no excuse for bullying other parishioners, ever. And the vestry needs to resume its rightful role—the notion that the rector appoints the executive committee and otherwise interferes with the functioning of the vestry is bad for the rector, bad for the parish, and bad for church members.

A good starting point is the online resources available from the national church, with one example available here in PDF.

For those interested, here is a diagram of the process: