Sunday, June 11, 2006

Judgement Call

Say you are a pastor of a big but not huge church. On Friday morning, a member in her sixties dies of breast cancer after a long struggle. The family chooses Sunday afternoon for a memorial service as many of their extended family who have gathered to walk with her husband and children through the final days need to be back at work Monday morning.

There has been a fellowship event for another group in the church planned for this same Sunday afternoon for months. It has been publicized in the newsletter, bulletin and pre-worship announcements. It is not happening at church, but in a nearby park. Because of the size of the congregation and a bit of a generational difference, most of the folks in the group sponsoring the fellowship event are not close to the deceased, some did not know her at all. A complicating factor is that, if the fellowship event goes forward, one of the pastors will need to be there rather than at the funeral. Friday, after quick consultation among staff and with the event planners, the decision gets made to go ahead with the fellowship event as previously planned.

Saturday evening, you receive a call at home that some "people" are upset that the fellowship event was not cancelled, given the circumstances. At this point it would be very hard, though not entirely impossible if you dropped everything and spent the night on the phone, to pull the plug on the fellowship event. You let the original decision stand. Did you do the right thing?


cheesehead said...

There is no one "right thing". It sounds as if you are doing the thing that is not only respectful of the family and its needs during this time of grief, but also that thing that is honoring the hard work of the congregation in planning the social event.

I hate it when "some people" are upset but non-communicative. It sounds as of you got one of those vague complaints where people are afraid to just come right out and tell you that they are unhappy. I hate it when that happens. There is no way to respond to that that will make anybody happy.

People just don't want to take responsibility for making their own choices: social event or memorial. They would rather the pastor do it for them. Good for you for not shouldering that responsiblity!!

You did good.

Jane Ellen+ said...

Yep. What Cheesehead said. Both memorial and fellowship are important ministries of the church; with the minimal overlap of the two groups, I see no problem in having both take place. And if the pastors each need to be in a different place that day... well, that's why the congregation has more than one pastor, yes?

This is one of those judgment calls where no matter what is decided, some soul is going to have his/her nose out of joint and blame you for not being all things to all people. Fortunately, you do not need to feel badly; that is The Boss' job, not ours.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely you did the right thing.

There will always be "some people" upset (or someone willing to let you believe that "some people are upset"). That's just the nature of this gig we've gotten ourselves into.

[And personally, if I die after a long and happy life, I'd hate to think that BBQ and beer and lots of kids running around having fun, would be cancelled just because I was dead.]

Songbird said...

I don't see how you could have made any other call on this one. In my little church or your former teeny church, it might be different. But once you get past 150 members, you're not dealing with one unified community. It's a set of interlinking groups. Hold your ground and know your pals are out here watching your back!

SingingOwl said...

Yep. I agree. There may have been no ideal solution, so in such cases (which is most of the time) we do what we can and go on.

revabi said...

I know this is late Sunday night, actually Monday Morning. I would have made the same choice. Indeed the church I served as an Associate had that happen, and both went on without a hitch.

It seems to me that you have run into two things, 1. The anxiety of the congregation. Your job will be to the nonanxious presence and the staff to be likewise. (Healthy Congregations Peter Steinke).

2. The church may be big, but some are uncomfortable with the size; growth or continued growth and they want to go back to "family size". Which also feeds #1, fear of hurting someones feelings or leaving someone out or people having to make a choice. That transition is hard to make. Again your job is to be the non anxious leader and the staff are to be on a team with you and support you. Ad you did a good job with the decision and phone call.

LutheranChik said...

I went to a workshop on crisis communication in church settings where we talked a lot about the anxiety management that Revabi's post talks about. One point that was made at our workshop was that the instigators -- the infamous, high-maintenance "some people" who are always second-guessing decisions made by the pastor or the rest of the church family, are often motivated by the positive of strong, familial identification with the congregation combined with the negative of some deficiency in their other life relationships -- feeling powerless or neglected. They're people who at heart just want to feel important and listened to; their need for that is actually greater than their need to have things their own way. So dealing with them is a matter of communicating to them that, no matter what decisions are ultimately made in the congregation, their presence and ideas are welcome and valued and that they're being listened to.

peripateticpolarbear said...

You did right. For one, the woman's funeral was poorly timed but for good reason---ordinarily you could have asked the family not to do it during the time you were unavailable, but since that wasn't possible (or pastoral), you had to allow the conflict.

Out of curiousity were the "some people" older folks (who hadn't planned on the social event anyway) or the few younger ones who had ties to the deceased.

SpookyRach said...

Sounds like a good decision to me. I've always heard that Fake Cow City has an ordinance on the books that bans Sunday funerals. I have no idea if this is really true, but I don't remember a single Sunday funeral in the time I've lived here.

BTW - Pepper Packet is an inspired, multi-purpose name. You made me spew my coke. And the burger joint in your town - woah. That's so ignorant. ha ha!

jledmiston said...

You did the right thing.

Life sometimes feels like it should stop when a loved one dies, but it doesn't stop. (I'm with anonymous -- I don't want picnics and other such events cancelled just because I'm dead.) Life is not just about grieving family.

Hope the week includes lots of support on this one.

SpiritMists said...

I agree with all of the above! Doing both events at once only made practical sense. In addition, I think there's something that speaks to the life of the church about having both events. Yes, the younger picnic crowd might not have known the deceased church member, but it is possible that the event could be designed/added to so that it intentiaonally is a celebration of life. In this way, the juxtaposition of a funeral, which celebrates a person's life, and the picnic event which is a life-affirming group activity, both are part of the same story.