Thursday, 29 January 2009

One (Traditionalist) Road to Recovery

Tim Chesterton bears moving testimony to the ministry of Bishop Ron Ferris, formerly of the North Canadian Yukon diocese, then Algoma. In retirement he has left the Anglican Church of Canada for one of the Canadian Traditionalist networks. I can’t / won’t comment about his choice, not knowing its immediate context; This post is not about his retirement ministry, but what preceded it. Bishop Ron was an early adopter of the internet to stay in touch and guide clergy, and used to post brief weekly notes and ideas, which I came across a few years ago, and thought were solid gold.
I hope they stay somewhere on the web, even though the author has retired...

One of these concerns conflicted Christian communities. Like an immune system attacking its healthy body, Church groups can become oppressed by a soul-sickness that reveals itself in paranoia, bullying, silly (usually ad hominem) touchiness and sick bunny sarcasm. Here is Bishop Ron’s list of characteristic symptoms and treatments...
1. High and habitual anxiety and reactivity which overshadows perspective, opportunity, and differentiated thought.
  • Remedy: Meet enough security needs to allow calm dialogue and thought. Stabilize the patient.
  • 2. Carefully tended list of grievances is held and recited to negotiate future concessions.

  • Remedy: Acknowledge and air wounds. Apply reality therapy to exaggerations.
  • 3. Enduring personal animosities override all decisions, all deliberations, all impartiality.

  • Remedy: Slowly renew, dilute, and broaden the leadership base.
  • 4. Blaming and cyclical, unhealthy relationship patterns will be present and gain strength from anger, revenge, stigmatization, "them and us" thinking, and distancing "ain't it awful".

  • Remedy: Re-state the problems without personal blame. Envision a new future. Don't be vague.
  • 5. Conflict is magnified through indirect communications such as one person speaking for anonymous others.

  • Remedy: Create a fair forum for direct communication where people speak for themselves, directly to the whole group, and where the open decisions matter.
  • 6. Hostage taking occurs "unless . . . l'm leaving".
  • Remedy: "We love you, appreciate what you've done, and don't want you to leave, however . . . "
  • 7. Relationship obsessions abound with unhealthy clinging or distancing. This may lead to endless analysis, therapy, inward scrutiny, and desperate solutions.

  • Remedy: Focus on the great outward common tasks and purposes.
  • 8. An exhausted few tenuously cling to the wheel as the ship tosses and lunges largely out of control.

  • Remedy: Leaders must priorize, set boundaries, differentiate tasks, and proceed with faith in God and their own integrity. Reduce the tasks to match the resources and create the space for some enjoyment.
  • 9. Insecurity reactions around books, buildings, the old days, and the past hero will be sentimentalized. People will cling to each other in unhealthy ways: gossip circles, power groups, guard-dog teams, and "ain't it awful" observation teams.

  • Remedy: Help the community find its security in their primary convictions; God, Christ, the word, the mission, and the love.
  • 10. Often there is a sense of morass and abyss. Poverty thinking will overcome abundance thinking. "We're hurting. We're stuck. We're getting to like our insecurities. We're poor and that insures nothing good can happen. Even if we could change the cost might be too high."

  • Remedy: A new climate, new patterns of relating, abundance thinking, hope kindled
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    Ann said...

    This list is straight out of Interim Ministry Training that is offered for those planning to work as interim clergy. I recommend the training for all leaders in congregations.

    Lapinbizarre said...

    "Sick bunny sarcasm." Sorry! Will try to do better.

    Bishop Alan Wilson said...

    Ann, many thanks for pointing me to the interim ministry concept. We have one or two retired clergy in Bucks who do great work, but it tends to be ad hoc, and I don't think our church has thought through transition issues in ministry as clearly and cogently as in the US. I remember seeing some good Alban Institute stuff aboutinterim ministry a few years ago.

    What we do in Bucks, however, is to get Andrew Gear (Parsh Development Adviser) to do some close consultancy work with every parish as it goes into vacancy, helping with the profile, but mainly helping them identify where they're at and what the issues are.

    LB, there are various types of sarcasm, aren't there: Sick Bunny (Class 1), Angry Bunny (Class 2), Namecalling (Bugs Bunny?)(Class 3) Lowest form of wit (genuinely witty, and part of joshing among friends)(Class 4). Very few attain Class 5, what Woody Allen called "Puckish Satire on contemporary mores" that I associate with the best commenters on this blog. Ain't really sarcasm at all; just a tickle with a high class buzz saw...

    Ann said...

    Interim Ministry Network and their training is here. Alban also has good publications on this.

    Lapinbizarre said...

    It is too, too easy, with all the irritants on offer on the internet, to give free rein to the sins of pride and arrogance. Just wanted to make sure. And thanks for setting me to rights on the degrees of bunnyhood.

    Bishop Alan Wilson said...

    (Posting fromemail on behalf of Anne Lee)

    You may be interested in an article by Richard Impey in the Church Times of 5th October 2007, Issue 7543 "Why a church might need an interim vicar" and also a letter the following week, 12th October 2007, Issue 7544 "Interim Vicars can concentrate on the things that matter" I have long advocated the introduction of (trained) interim ministry in the Church of England, in particular when there have been particular problems in a parish, including pastoral breakdown. Richard Impey was himself an interim vicar in Norwich diocese and is currently Bps Advisor for Parish Development in Sheffield diocese..

    There are many reasons why an interim minister might be helpful in a parish: obviously serious breakdown or when there have been abuses with which a congregation needs to come to terms. Interestingly we were in the Episcopall church in Colonial Williamstown, VA in October when the then incumbent was preaching his farewell sermon having just been elected Bp of (I think) South Virginia. His predecessor had been an interim minister because of the sexual abuses apparently committed by the previous incumbent. The sermon paid tribute to the work done by the interim minister in helping the congregation in whatever way was necessary for each individual and for the church as a whole. It was a remarkably honest sermon and judging from the nods and vocalisations around us, the congregation were in agreement with what was being said. I find it very interesting - and very sad - that the C of E seems to operate on a policy of silence, where an incumbent is not told of any irregularities in an earlier incumbency and the congregation is left with inadequate pastoral help and supervision. What you are doing in Bucks, with Andrew Gear is a splendid first step, but may not always be able to address the issue of a dysfunctional congregation where the church members, including the PCC, are unaware of their dysfunction and want to perpetuate their behaviour. It would be good if Richard Impey's expertise could be utilised more widely within the church.

    Thanks for raising this issue.

    v. best wishes,


    Bishop Alan Wilson said...

    And, replying to myself posting as you!!

    Thanks very much Anne. We are beginning to build up a body of experience in Bucks, and around the diocese. The main problem is the understandable desire of parishes when a vicar goes to speed up the process of finding another on. It's one of the causes of repeating patterns of toxic experience in parishes — they're not bad, just in a hurry!

    I'll cehck out the resources you gave...

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