Later this week I will leafleting a large swath of the city, with a focus on a high-value area near King Street. Efforts likely will spill into next week, but I plan to do another 1,000 homes in short order.
I’m also gearing up to increase visibility coming into the holidays, including ramping up at shopping areas and near Metro stations.
Following is an excellent post by Wade Mullen, an expert on abusive clergy and seminary instructor.
Spot on, and exactly the tactics that Dysfunctional Bob and Sugarland Chiow use. Grace church members love these tactics as well as they conveniently ignore Bob’s perjury, while urging me to “move on.” Or they flip me off, willfully blind to their role in the church’s misconduct, ranging from turning a blind eye to tacit approval.
Grace church, toxic church. Grace church, the clergy perjury parish.
In earlier posts, I discussed organizational narcissism and the challenges it poses for an interim and Grace church. This article more fully explores these concepts, with an emphasis on the difficulties organizations face when they seek to change.
So what is organizational narcissism? (Note that we are here referring to the high self-esteem variant. There are others.)
A concept in organizational psychology, the term describes an organization that is unable to behave ethically because it lacks a moral identity. While such organizations may not be intentionally unethical, they become self-obsessed and use a sense of entitlement, denial, and rationalizations to justify anything they do. Source: Duchon, D. & Drake, B. J Bus Ethics (2009) 85: 301. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-008-9771-7. As a result, the organization is blind to its flaws and weaknesses.
While academic research into organizational narcissism in churches is limited, experts are in agreement on two key points:
Such organizations find it profoundly hard to change.
While narcissistic organizations may adopt ethics and other policies, such efforts will have little effect.
Industrial psychologists also note that such organizations often are headed by a narcissist, in many instances adopting their persona. And all organizations, just like humans, have personalities, learned behaviors, and ways to respond to stress, problems, and challenges. In short, organizations have personalities, and can choose to act in an ethical manner, or not.
And so it is with Grace. Bob Malm and the church both, in my opinion, lack moral identities. Both use a sense of entitlement, denial and rationalizations to justify anything they do. Both have behaved in ways that to outsiders are shocking and unethical, including:
Making false police reports
Proferring false statements of fact and law in court
Trying to subpoena a dying woman in violation of state law
Referring to those entrusted to their pastoral care as “domestic terrorists,” “sick,” “twisted,” and “sad individual[s], starving for attention.” (Projection, anyone?)
Lying to members
Indeed, one of the reasons that Grace church has gotten away with these behaviors to the extent it has is that these behaviors are so over the top; few readily believe that a church would engage in such conduct, particularly in a hierarchical organization like The Episcopal Church.
Similarly, just like an individual narcissist, Grace church demonstrates little introspection, either on an individual or collective level. For example, parishioners fail to see the laughable irony when they leave Mass on Sunday, having just made their confession, and flip off protesters. Nor has there been any organizational demand for accountability by Dysfunctional Bob or Sugarland Chiow. Indeed, the parish saw the former off with a celebration of his 30 years of “ministry.” Yes, there were many good aspects of Bob’s tenure, but any situation in which it’s okay to commit perjury and bully the dying is hardly cause for celebration, even when taken as a whole.
So where does that leave things? Like the alcoholic who tells herself that, “I can stop any time,” Grace church is in denial. Beautiful liturgy and cordial relations with fellow parishioners mask the underlying reality, which is that the parish is a hot mess. And just as narcissists create a false image for themselves that they present to others, so too does Grace Church create a beautiful illusion of a friendly, welcoming place.
Moreover, just as telling an alcoholic that she has a problem rarely goes well, so too will the interim who steps into the breach discover that efforts to fix problems at Grace are unwelcome. First will come the inevitable comparisons to Bob, then the fun and games with the altar guild and choir, eventually leading to the new person being declared the source of all the church’s woes. “Things were fine when Bob was here, so it’s obviously the interim’s fault,” will be the refrain, conveniently forgetting that things were far from fine.
Even worse, the one person who potentially could help the parish move through these issues has checked out. Much like the bishop had to write a letter to ask parishioners not to visit Bob Malm during his recovery unless specifically asked to do so, Susan Goff may be the one person who could step in, speak at a parish meeting, ask people to tone it down, to be open to new approaches, and to fix long-standing problems. But with +Shannon having weighed in to express his full support of Dysfunctional Bob, doing so involves an implicit repudiation Goff’s none-too-successful predecessor. Nor is the diocese great at issues of this sort: Even on how way out the door, +Shannon proclaimed that everything was going well at the diocese, despite the fact it clearly was not.
Additionally, +Goff refuses to respond to emails about Bob’s misconduct and reneged on Pat Wingo’s offer to be a resource following our meeting in Fredericksburg, Thus, she has scant credibility and zero first-hand knowledge of my issues, or the larger issues in the parish, which center on power, abuse, respect, the baptismal covenant, and the notion of being the Body of Christ. And after providing the diocese with multiple opportunities to help work towards reconciliation, I want nothing to do with those knuckleheads. Indeed, the diocese appears best suited to meaningless liturgies and laments over slavery and racial injustice, and reflections on reproductive rights. Real social justice has proven repeatedly to “not be of weighty and material importance to the ministry of the church.” Plus, with membership in The Episcopal Church plummeting, these days the church is too small for anyone to care what it thinks anyway.
My advice to interims: Think twice. Even a highly skilled and very determined expert in interim ministry faces a daunting task, plenty of stress and anxiety, and potentially lasting damage to her or his personal and professional reputation.
Well, another Sunday morning on Russell Road as I protest 1,030 feet from Grace Episcopal.
Not long ago, Dysfunctional Bob rolled past. True to form, he drove on the wrong side of the road, although this time he didn’t stop to threaten me.
Sadly enough, only one Grace parishioner contributed to my Begin With Grace video. Gotta love those one-gun salutes to Jesus!
Meanwhile, given this Sunday’s forum, which is an update on the search for an interim, I offer this small contribution to the conversation: A screen cap in which Mom’s attorney expressed his opinion that Dysfunctional Bob, Sugarland Chiow and Grace Church are “coming at you with a personal vendetta.”
Grace claims to be a “center for healing.” So physician, heal thyself.
And prospective interims, beware. This is the mess that BM leaves behind.
Following the childish antics of Grace parishioners while I protested outside Dysfunctional Bob’s farewell, I sent the following email to bishop Susan Goff and several diocesan officials.
* * * *
As you may be aware, I continue to protest Bob Malm’s perjury and Grace Episcopal’s organizational misconduct, while being careful to remain beyond 1,000 feet from the church and the Malm residence. Most recently, I protested outside Bob’s farewell, held this past Sunday at the church; my protests will continue indefinitely.
With that in mind, please make sure that clergy and parishioners at Grace understand that I am exercising my rights under Virginia’s anti-stalking statute, found at https://law.lis.virginia.gov/vacode/title18.2/chapter4/section18.2-60.3/, Specifically, I do not wish to be contacted or threatened by any member of the parish, including clergy, parishioners, and staff, and am prepared to file criminal charges against any person who ignores this request, including Bob Malm and members of his family.
Note that the Rev. David Crosby continues to feel the need to contact me. Given Bob’s courtroom claim that I am a “domestic terrorist,” one would assume that Crosby would maintain a distance adequate to ensure his personal safety.
Similarly, the six members of the parish who rolled past last Sunday while making obscene gestures do themselves, the parish, and the diocese no favors. Indeed, the video footage of these persons that I captured and uploaded to the web has generated considerable discussion of organizational health, both at the church and within the diocese, and none of it has been positive.
On a similar note, the elderly parishioner who rolled up and offered to fight me, only to drive off when I pointed out that I had arranged a police detail, who was watching from a short distance away, should not threaten me again. Should he do so, I will immediately take legal action.
Lastly, I offer the observation that the online comments from Bob’s family, friends, and parishioners are causing lasting damage to the church’s reputation. These include various ad hominem attacks, including that I:
Am mentally ill, a notion that Bob assiduously promoted among parishioners and diocesan staff.
Physically abuse my husband Mike, who was received into the Episcopal Church in 2014, married me there, and was forced out of the church by Malm in 2015.
Am sexually attracted to Bob.
Left the parish on my own, a claim that Bob and the vestry falsely made to church members in their 2017 written talking points.
Engaged in criminal conduct while on the church’s vestry.
Leaving aside the mockery these actions make of the baptismal covenant, several of these comments are defamatory, and I am prepared to pursue all appropriate legal remedies against the relevant parties, including the diocese.
I therefore ask that you ensure that all involved understand that I wish no further contact with the parish or those associated with it.
Thank you in advance for your anticipated cooperation in this matter.
The other day, I was thinking about the organizational narcissism of Grace Church under Dysfunctional Bob. Specifically, the church imposes no accountability on Dysfunctional Bob when he doesn’t do his job, commits perjury, or tries to drag a dying woman into court. It does nothing to address the matter when Dysfunctional Bob, Sugarland Chiow, and the vestry lie to church members, telling them that Mike and I left on our own. And yet members of the parish feel that somehow I have an obligation not to share my experiences or, as one parishioner put it, I “ just need to get a job.”
At about the same time, I came across the following post by the Rev. Richard Newnham, an Anglican priest and noted publisher. (I use Anglican in the sense of belonging to one of the ACNA churches. Thus, while I don’t agree with his overall worldview, I had a very pleasant albeit brief exchange with him via email when I asked for reprint permission.)
The post does an excellent job of correlating abuse of power in churches and the resulting decline in organized religion.
Check it out.
1. I talk a lot about how the “business model” has usurped the “family model” of church governance…the “congregation” has replaced “employees” and they have as much say about how the church is run as the average corporate employee has…none…
2. This is always highlighted when there is some sort of issue or scandal…information and influence (as well as decisions) are cloistered only among the chosen few and control of information is a paramount concern…
3. Controlling information is a primary concern because it serves the ultimate concern…preserving the leadership…
4. It has always struck me as strange that in the place where the importance of truth is held as sacred, that some truths are considered too true for the congregation to know…
5. In business and in church the primary benefits accrue to the “owners” and the employees and congregations are simply means to those ends…
6. I’ve never run a story where I didn’t have to use confidential sources because telling the truth was such a risk to the one speaking truth…some truths are too true for management…
7. I’ve lost count of how many people I’m friends with who can’t take the risk of anyone finding out they’re friends with me…in the church…
8. The “successful” modern pastor is one who can create the illusion of a family that may save him when the business has a scandal…it’s still just an illusion…
9. Pastors who fall betray God and their congregations…the congregations usually then betray each other by standing with the one who has fallen or abused instead of with those abused…
10. I’m guessing that those who have left the church over the abuse of power or people comprise one of the biggest and fastest growing “denominations” in the country…
You really have to hand it to the crowd at Grace Episcopal: Even as the church implodes, they keep up the same ugly rhetoric that got them in trouble in the first place. Meanwhile, our good buddy Lisa G., aka Lisa Gardner, just can’t get it through her head that, even if everything she says were true, this isn’t the way to handle it. But hey, she’s a Christian.
She’s also profoundly stupid. If you’re going to post defamatory content, don’t proffer details that would identify yourself.
Nor does Lisa recognize that her argument is a tu quoque logical fallacy. No matter how you parse it, Bob Malm is a perjurer. Lisa can toss out every ad hominem attack out there, but Bob Malm is still a perjurer.
Wonder how long before Grace drops to 150 pledging units.
Prospective interims, beware. This sort of discourse is part and parcel of life at Grace Church following 30 years of Dysfunctional Bob.
Check it out: More childish, hateful, homophobic online behavior on Fairfax Underground from user “Lisa G.,” a Grace church groupie.
Know any Lisa G’s at the church? The only one I know is Lisa G. Medley, who already has been called “childish and hateful” over at The Wartburg Watch, when she and Leslie Malm posted in response to one of Dee’s posts about my situation. In that case, both got called out for being liars.
Of course, that’s the great things about Fairfax Underground. Decades from now, folks can see for themselves how people at Grace Church talk to each other. They can then use this information to decide whether they wish to be involved with Grace Episcopal, aka St. Dysfunction.
Some time ago, the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Virginia elected the Rev. Susan B. Haynes as bishop diocesan. Because her consecration still must be approved by a majority of bishops in the House of Bishops, I wanted to make sure that diocesan officials understand the profound concerns I have about Sven’s qualifications. With that in mind, here is the email I sent to the search committee, together with the attachments.
Before we go further, two important reminders for parishioners and staff at Grace Episcopal, aka St. Dysfunction:
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.)
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.
The Alexandria police department has rescinded its security detail for Grace Church on Sunday. This follows Dysfunctional Bob Malm’s explosive rage on Russell Road a few months ago, which was directed at me and extremely threatening. Bob’s conduct also was a violation of my express written request to him from December 2017 to have no further contact with me, and thus may have violated Virginia’s anti-stalking statute. Further, shortly after that, I received an email from an Episcopal priest warning me about Bob’s conduct. I therefore had requested a police detail this weekend, with the goal of preventing further irrational, threatening and potentially violent behavior from Bob Malm.
Keep in mind too that Dysfunctional Bob appears to have other, larger issues, as evinced by his written statements, under oath, made while advised by legal counsel Jeff “Sugarland” Chiow, in which Bob falsely alleges that my mom, or someone purporting to be her, repeatedly set up appointments with him. This is either perjury on Bob’s part, or some sort of break from reality in which Bob can no longer separate fact from his fantasies. Either way, all the more reason to be wary of this very troubled individual.
Of course, if Dysfunctional Bob, Sugarland Chiow, or others have evidence to support Bob’s claim, I am happy to publish it. And no, I’m not holding my breath.
Below is a copy of the email from the police department.
Tonight’s gala reception for Bob Malm underscores why many at Grace Episcopal deserve exactly what they get. Meaning that they deserve Bob Malm, and all the baggage that comes with him, including his perjury, his multiple abuses of power, his bullying, his manipulation, and his feckless attitude towards being rector, despite being paid more than many senior denominational officials.
Christians are called towards peace, reconciliation, health, and healing. What they are not called to is turning a blind eye to misconduct. In the case of Dysfunctional Bob, examples of his misconduct are myriad, ranging from his indifference to the well-being of church employees to his inappropriate comments about those entrusted to his pastoral care.
Yet there will be plenty of people who will turn out tonight to swill wine, socialize, and to get all teary-eyed that Dysfunctional Bob will soon be packing it in, headed towards full-time life on the beach and golf course, replete with a defined benefit plan, paid for by the church, that far exceeds the retirement benefits most of us will receive.
Of course, by turning out, folks lend credibility to Bob and his conduct. At the same time, these same people make no effort to take seriously or address the trauma that Bob has caused people, including Mike and my mother, thus making them modern-day versions of the Scribes and Pharisees who looked the other way when confronted with someone who was suffering.
Ironically, karma has a way of fixing these things. Those who blindly support Bob, who think it’s okay to bully others, who behave badly towards other church members, will tend to attract equally toxic persons to their orbits. And by doing so, they will accelerate Grace Episcopal’s internal problems, while interjecting still more challenges into their own lives.
So, for those turning out to “celebrate” Bob Malm’s 30 years of misfeasance and nonfeasance, I say go for it. Birds of a feather....
In his most recent sermon posted to the church website, perjuring priest Bob Malm bloviates on about caring for those who feel cast out. So how does that square with Bob Malm forcing Mike out out of the church?
Here is the relevant part of Bob’s sermon:
And here is Bob’s email, in which, in true passive-aggressive Bob Malm fashion, Bob announces that Mike needs to find a new church:
And here is a photo of Mike being received into the church 16 months earlier, along with our friends Tony and Diane. All three have left the church, along with me and the rest of my family.
So, I have this to say about Bob Malm’s sermon: Total BS. Absolute hypocrisy.
Despite Dysfunctional Bob’s departure from Grace Church this Sunday, I will continue to protest and leaflet. Plans are to leaflet a stretch of King Street, as well as to protest at several of my favorite locations.
Recently, Susie Saffelle, an active member of Grace Episcopal Church, updated her review of the church to say how positive her experience was with Bob Malm’s 30 years as rector. While I like and respect Susie, her comments are misplaced and immoral.
Susie conflates two words, friendly and faithful.
Bob Malm often can be, and is, friendly and engaging. He is good at playing the role of priest. He knows how to look like a priest. He often acts like a priest. To the average person in the pew, he is a solid priest.
But scratch the surface and you discover a very different reality. Like all narcissists, Bob’s charm, his seeming kindness, and his other positive attributes are all just an act. The real Bob, lurking right beneath the surface:
Lies under oath, otherwise known as commits perjury.
Tries to drag the dying into court.
Bullies my husband out of the church, received into it just 16 months earlier.
Ignores utter chaos, including hoarding and bullying, in the church office for more than a decade.
Shows little use for the food pantry, the homeless shelter, or other service to those in need.
Bullies the vestry into an outrageously generous compensation that exceeds that of even senior bishops in the denomination.
Engages in smear campaigns.
Refers to those entrusted to his pastoral care as “sick,” “twisted,” and dysfunctional.”
Calls Jan Spence an “asshole.”
Refers to Lisa Doelp as, “like a little spy.”
Violates confidentiality repeatedly.
Conducts a multi-year vendetta against me and my family, disregarding the effect his actions have on the church he purports to serve.
Jesus’ comments are spot on:
Beware of false prophets,who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.16 You will know them by their fruits.Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles?17 Even so,every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.20 Therefore by their fruits you will know them.
Nor can one ignore Bob’s actions. Jesus overturned tables in the temple when confronted with hypocrisy, and loudly criticized the Scribes and Pharisees. People like Susie, however, turn a blind eye, and thus are complicit in Bob’s misconduct. And those who provide financial support to the parish are endorsing Bob’s actions. Nor is there anything “sacred” about a parish that condones such actions.
Here is what abuse expert Dr. Diane Langberg says:
And below is an example of the results of Bob Malm’s thirty years of “ministry,” posted by a now college-aged member of the parish:
Nor am I the only one to have these experiences.
In closing, note Susie’s use of the phrase, “At the helm,” which reflects the rampant clericalism of the parish. Bob should not be regarded as being “at the helm.” As a priest, Bob is there to serve the parish community, not the other way around. It is time for members of the church to take responsibility for the bull crud that goes on in the parish and address these matters, versus turning a blind eye on the basis that they are the rector’s responsibility, then invoking the notion that “we all have our faults.”
Grace church is a toxic church, and it is toxic because people allow it to be toxic. That is the bottom line.
Observant members of Grace Church may have noticed something about the upcoming gala farewell reception for perjuring priest Bob Malm: It’s pay-to-pay. That stands in marked contrast to Chris Byrne’s farewell, in which both the church and the school ponied up several thousand dollars for a catered reception, with the church funds drawn from management reserves. The change highlights both the shoddy management of Dysfunctional Bob’s reign, as well as the new financial realities facing the church.
To be clear, the decision to draw on savings to pay for a farewell party for Chris was stupid on multiple fronts. First, Chris was not a particularly effective head of school. Her approach to management alienated staff, parents, and parishioners alike, and her empire building led many to question the wisdom of having a school. Second, a catered party for Chris featuring barbecue from an outside vendor sends an unfortunate message to church staff, who typically get a sheet cake during coffee hour when they left. Why Chris would warrant a $6,000 reception when church staff got a $35 sheet cake is beyond me. Third, entertainment appropriately is paid for out of free cash flow, not savings, nor from borrowing. In other words, any church with money to pay $100,000 bonuses to Dysfunctional Bob, and pay for $6,000 farewell parties, all while cutting health insurance benefits to church staff and their dependents is both seriously screwed up, and surely needs neither my money, nor yours.
Of course, the underlying point about health insurance for church employees, many of whom are underpaid to begin with and cannot afford to live in Northern VA absent a second income, continues to hold true. Church members can pony up to get smashed at Shrine Mont, and to attend a gala reception for Dysfunctional Bob, but they can’t find money to pay for full health insurance for the human beings who make their little stained glass paradise run? That is truly sad and unethical.
Meanwhile, pay-to-play underscores the new rules of the road. Grace Church needs to get its act together, its priorities straight, and start behaving like a church. That includes not wasting money on self-indulgent, unnecessary luxuries like parties.
Join perjuring priest Bob Malm Friday, September 27 at Grace Episcopal for an adults-only reception, celebrating 30 years of Bob’s so-called ministry—spreading the Good News of Jesus, one beach at a time.
One of the troubling things about Grace Church aka St. Dysfunction under Bob Malm is the way in which people talk to and about each other. With that in mind, check out the norms of the Diocese of Southern Virginia, which I adapted and used with permission while heading up the non-profit.
Of particular interest is the request that people bring up issues only with those able to do something about it. Contrast that with parishioners who, encouraged by Bob Malm, speculate on my mental health and motives, while never once raising the issue with me. Kemp Williams, Jean Reed: Here’s looking at you.
Perjuring priest Bob Malm, who will hold his last service at Grace Church at 10 AM Sunday, September 29, allegedly has hired an off-duty police officer for the day. This puts him on a par with other illuminaries of The Episcopal Church, including ++Michael Curry, who had a detail present when he preached in Charlottesville followed the fascist rallies in the city.
Perhaps the church’s time, money and effort would be better spent putting a stop to Bob Malm’s perjury.
In the meantime, the news underscores that Bob Malm continues his games as church giving and attendance plummet, and even on his final day with the church.
All the more reason to take a pass on Grace Episcopal Church and Bob’s circle of flying monkeys.
And it’s interesting to note: Bob claims that the church has been threatened, but even after being ordered by a court to do so, refuses to specify what was said that was threatening. That is in addition to his perjury, in which he stated that my mom, or someone claiming to be her, contacted him repeatedly. That simply did not happen.
As for church members who blindly dismiss these inconvenient truths as fabrications or, to use Easter Thompson’s phrase, “Things that didn’t happen,” the documentation is right here, on this site. If they are foolish enough to disregard the clear evidence of Bob’s misconduct, then they deserve a bully and perjurer for priest.
As Grace Church prepares for Dysfunctional Bob’s departure and the arrival of an interim rector, one thing is painfully clear: Any interim brave enough (or perhaps foolish enough) to take the position has her work cut out for her. Specifically, after 30 years of Dysfunctional Bob and his sordid example, the way people in the church talk about each other, and to each other, is appalling.
To be sure, it took me a long time to spot this issue myself. Indeed, it was a member of the Grace Episcopal School staff, herself Episcopal, who pointed it out to me in 2014. Her exact words: “I would never belong to your church, and it’s because of the way people talk to each other. And it goes right to the top. And I’ll tell you right now, Bob will never say anything about it. And because he engages in a certain amount of it himself, he shows people that it’s alright.”
At the time, I foolishly came to Bob’s defense; it was more than a year later before I finally realized that she was absolutely correct.
Now, with the advantage of hindsight, and having seen firsthand that Dysfunctional Bob is morally bankrupt and a perjurer as well, I realize that this ugly discourse does indeed permeate every aspect of Grace Church. Whether it’s Alison Campbell and her fun and games with the altar guild; Lisa Medley and her bullying/bitchy behavior; Teresa Preston and her gestures that indicate she believes I’m mentally ill; Eric Waskowiscz, Amy Medrick and others with their one-gun salutes to Jesus, or Bob Malm in his emails to the vestry and the diocese, there is a profoundly un-Christian attitude within the church that comes to the surface when parishioners talk to each other.
Before we go further, I am not the only one to notice it. Kyle Babin, himself the target of bullying by choir members, called it an “evil spirit” at Grace Church. Former member John Cunningham posted to Facebook, saying he left the parish due to bullying and other abusive conduct (screen cap below).
Additionally, folks at the Wartburg Watch commented on ugly comments from Lisa Medley and Leslie Malm; the former didn’t even have the courage to post under her name. Their comment: “[these parishioners] seem sane to themselves, they seem immature and hateful to outsiders looking at their behavior.” (Screen cap below)
Going right to the top, we have Dysfunctional Bob’s email to the vestry, in which he describes me as a “sad individual...starving for attention.” While this is an interesting bit of projection from Bob Malm, who regularly curries adulation in order to support his shaky sense of self, the fact the he feels comfortable talking about a former parishioner to the vestry in this manner is telling and illustrates the church culture that Bob has promoted during his 30 years with the parish. (Screen cap below.)
Of course, there also is the comment from a college-aged member of Lisa Medley’s family, in which she urges me to commit suicide. (Screen cap below.)
So what can an interim do to address this situation? Establishing written norms would be helpful, but unpacking and fixing 30 years’ of Dysfunctional Bob’s toxic behavior and lessons learned within the parish about conflict resolution will probably take professional intervention. Even then, it’s an uphill battle, and both the diocese and church members like to sweep such issues under the rug and deny that an issue exists. Indeed, toxic parishioners like Lisa Medley not only deny that an issue exists, but also attack anyone who raises these issues. (Screen cap below.)
It should also be noted that Dee Parsons, publisher of the Wartburg Watch, herself experienced Bob Malm’s efforts at bullying and manipulating her. First, Bob tried the noisy bluster approach, which didn’t work at all. Then he tried flattery. Then he tried manipulation, claiming that Dee had promised to take down any posts about me, all the while ignoring Dee’s recommendation to work towards reconciliation.
As one looks at other correspondence from within the parish, including Jean Reed’s speculation that I am mentally ill, as well as former friend Kemp Williams’ comments, one reaches the same conclusion that user Ishy, a commenter on the Wartburg Watch, came to as she asked church members:
“What kind of Christians are you? I don’t see any love or concern for Eric in your posts. I don’t see that you tried to do anything about it other than make sure Eric couldn’t come back either. (Emphasis added. Original in screen cap above.)
That conclusion holds true for Bishop Susan Goff on down to the Grace Church vestry and membership. Nowhere is there any evidence of any real concerns including for Mike and my other family members hurt by Bob Malm’s conduct, and that of the church.
So, if you are a prospective interim and you are reading this, just know that if you take the job you are going to have one toxic mess on your hands, and one that requires professional outside intervention.
On the other hand, if you are a church leader reading this and contemplating hiring Bob Malm as supply clergy, you should know that this is part of the baggage that comes with Bob Malm. Caveat emptor.
Lastly, if you are a prospective member, it is important to know that right behind the beautiful, friendly exterior, this is the sort of internal rot that runs rampant at Grace Church. If you join the parish, this is part of the package deal. To quote Proverbs, “in the tongue is the power of life and death.”
If Jeff Chiow, attorney for Grace Episcopal, really believes that Grace Church is the victim of “domestic terrorism,” why does he bring his wife and kids every Sunday? What kind of husband and father does that?
Or could it be that we see Jeff “Sugarland” Chiow’s and Dysfunctional Bob Malm’s veracity at issue?
In either case, we see their Christian ethics for what they are: Pretextual tokenism at its worst.
As for the family/parish system that allows this behavior: Morally bankrupt.
Years ago, activists within The Episcopal Church began clamoring for the development of programs to prevent and address sexual misconduct. The move came at a time when the church was struggling to find ways to include those who historically had been marginalized on the basis of gender, national origin, sexual orientation, and other criteria. Many among those groups recognized that church canons, which at the time only addressed heresy, simply were not adequate to prevent conduct intended to exploit, repress, and intimidate women and others who sought full inclusion in the life of the church. And while the resulting changes to church disciplinary canons and policies to prevent sexual misconduct were game changers at the time, the church has come to rest on its laurels, with the result that The Episcopal Church today lags behind the Roman Catholic church and other denominations in its protections. As a result, much work needs to be done to bring standards of conduct within The Episcopal Church up to par with those of other faith traditions.
Before we go further, we should recognize that outstanding work that has been done to promote inclusion and safety within the church by many, including the late Ann Fontaine, a much-loved staff member for the Cafe for many years. Ann, a tireless advocate for the disenfranchised, noted in a 2010 article that while the church has had considerable success in preventing and addressing child sexual abuse, its track record with adults, vulnerable persons, and non-sexual abuse was, at best, mixed:
Exploitation of vulnerable adults and harassment has a more mixed success rate. Much depends on the local diocese and requirements for response and discipline. Although the canons are in place, it is often a hard road to get the canons enforced. Rather than viewing events as abuse of power, they are confused with "affairs" or the victim is blamed for the occurrence. Egregious, multiple offenses are usually dealt with eventually but justice is slow to be found for these abuses. Most professions realize that the person in power has the responsibility in any relationship – regardless of actions. The church is beginning to understand this. The discipline of bishops is the least successful area in the church.
So what needs to change? And how can the church be made safer for all?
We need to make these issues a priority. Too often, discussion of these topics elicits a bored yawn or blank look. Yet these matters affect the very fiber of the church and the health of the Body of Christ; violations result in often irreparable damage to those who have been hurt and the parishes involved.
We need to promote a culture of transparency and accountability. Indeed, after the Heather Cook debacle, the church convened a task force to review the matter, which concluded that the church has faulty understanding of forgiveness and a lack of accountability. Yet despite the results of this and previous studies, not much has changed. Indeed, here in the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, the diocesan alcohol policy, posted online in 2015, ends by saying, “In response to Bishop Johnston’s statement at Annual Council in 2015 about the importance of examining our policies surrounding the use of alcohol, a more extensive policy will be affirmed by Executive Board and posted at a later date.” Yet as of this writing, nothing has happened. So much for accountability.
We need to better educate church members and officials. While the new church website on the Title IV disciplinary canons is a good start, my observation is that church members at all levels remain woefully uninformed about these issues. Indeed, I was shocked and alarmed when a senior denominational official recently told me that bishops cannot get involved in the details of a priest’s misconduct absent an active disciplinary case. This is at direct variance with the provisions of Title IV, which expressly provide that a pastoral direction may be issued in such circumstances. Similarly, diocesan staff often lack even rudimentary knowledge of these issues, despite their importance to the life of the church.
We need specific written guidelines about appropriate pastoral boundaries. For example, most Catholic dioceses have written standards of conduct about bullying, harassment, and intimidation, as well as a toll free phone number to report violations. In The Episcopal Church, however, the weasel wording of Title IV leaves such conduct exempt from scrutiny in many dioceses, for it would be dismissed as “not of weighty and material importance to the ministry of the church.”
We need diocesan officials to take these issues seriously. My own experience with the disciplinary canons suggests that if it doesn’t involve sex or children, church officials will take a pass. Indeed, I have had church officials expressly state, in writing, that illegal conduct by clergy will not be addressed unless criminal charges are brought. This is a shocking proposition, and one that would exclude even the most egregious clergy misconduct from diocesan review.
We need to be alert to efforts by denominational officials to water down protections. Specifically, during the last General Convention, the House of Bishops appears to have rendered illusory a number of #metoo safeguards passed by the House of Delegates.
We need church vestries and other decisionmaking bodies to implement their own standards of conduct, including addressing bullying and establishing written norms for conduct. Accountability becomes impossible without a means to benchmark and assess conduct.
While The Episcopal Church was, at one time, a leader in its efforts to end misconduct, the church has fallen woefully far behind the times, even with the legislative changes at the last General Convention. To remain relevant in the 21st century, it must do far more to ensure that it truly is the inclusive church that it claims to be.
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, 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.
I read with interest Michael Jones’ sermons from Shrine Mont, particularly in light of Dysfunctional Bob’s impending retirement. And while I agree with much of what he says, particularly his remarks about the importance of being positive, I want to rebut the underlying premises behind his sermons.
Specifically, Grace church is not a wonderful place. Bob Malm is not a wonderful priest. And God is not on the church’s side.
Jesus was very clear in offering choice words for clergy who are hypocrites and who interfere with the faith of others.
The Bible is very clear about bearing false witness—as in Bob Malm’s perjury, done in writing, under oath, in front of parishioners, and with legal counsel involved.
Jesus would have no use for a church that thinks it’s okay to try to drag a drying woman into court.
God does not approve of the deliberate misuse of memorial donations.
God is outraged when Bob Malm pushes Mike out of the Christian faith, after being received into The Episcopal Church only 18 months earlier.
God is not okay with a church where members are so morally bereft as to think it’s okay to urge others to commit suicide.
Nor did Dysfunctional Bob and Sugarland Chiow act in isolation. They acted with the approval of the vestry and a family system that allows, permits, and endorses such conduct. And one can understand the real motives and values of the parish by examining these behaviors and actions, for Jesus is clear: “By their fruits you shall know them.”
In the case of Mike Jones, he and others who wash their hands of these issues offer tacit, if not explicit, endorsement. They are hypocrites of the first order, modern-day Scribes and Pharisees. Turning a blind eye to evil is itself evil. Or as Desmond Tutu says:
If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.
I would add that if you say the elephant is great, wonderful, and doing an awesome job, the mouse will not only be ticked, he will think that you are a liar, a bully, and an enabler. And if you are an organization that makes that claim, the mouse likely will conclude that you are an organizational narcissist.
Meanwhile, Michael Jones conveniently ignores Fanny Belanger’s abrupt resignation, two years early, for “personal reasons.” We all know the real reasons for that, and sweeping the matter under the rug does not help anyone.
Further, even if everything Bob Malm claims is true, and it certainly is not, nothing justifies bullying Mike, lying under oath aka perjury, or trying to drag a dying woman into court.