On Monday I went to our PCC (Parochial Church Council) meeting 1.5 hours late. No I wasn’t avoiding the finance report!! I was waiting until the tears stopped long enough for me to walk into the meeting without bursting into tears again.
I am privileged that each evening when there is a PCC meeting, there is a family from church that have me round for dinner. It is our pattern of keeping in touch. Their girls are wonderful, friendly and chatty. The dad upset me at the end of the summer term. Once again he brought up church. The conversation ended with him telling me I was so negative about everything about church, followed by me driving to a friend’s house in tears. He seems to feel that if he always paints a great picture of our church, then it is great. He doesn’t listen to or acknowledge the numerous people who are not learning anything at church, are feeling unsupported and are one the verge of burning out!! After that event, I have felt wary of him. I considered not taking communion for a time, as I decided whether I could forgive him. I haven’t seen him all summer. Today I couldn’t avoid him. I guess he could see there was something not quite right as he suggested me talk about church, together with his wife.
He started by saying we know the vicar isn’t good at X Y and Z as if that justifies everything. I asked him to re-frame it and tell me what he is good at. He couldn’t. He preached at me that I had a “bitter root”. He said that as I wouldn’t name the people I can see that are struggling in our church with not learning, not being supported and some even on the edge of burn out I was exaggerating it all. Yet later went on to name all the other people in our church who have become bitter in our church, the implication that some have stayed and been troublemakers and that others have left.
As the tears rolled down my cheeks he said that the tears we cos of the pain I feel about church…is it??
I told him that I felt it is pretty poor pastoral care to email a parishioner to see how they are 4 months after they go off sick and actually meet them 9 months later. He said that when he had depression the vicar only visited once and he didn’t expect him to visit any more than that. He told me he knew how I felt, having had depression himself!! No you do not know my story. I can’t imagine what depression was like for you, but you had a wife next to you to support you, to bring in some income, to put food on the table for you. I had to do what I could for myself. I lived on bread and butter for at least a month, ended up unemployed and have had months when I wondered how I would manage to pay the rent!! You justify the lack of pastoral care from the vicar by saying the vicar’s wife provided that for me instead. Firstly by employing a married vicar, does not mean you get 2 for the price of 1!! Secondly the vicar’s wife is my friend…plus while we would usually meet up once or twice a month as friends, this year we have met up a total of 3 or 4 times all year, that’s 9 months, so she blatantly isn’t the one tasked with providing pastoral care to me!! I complained my vicar often says the wrong things (e.g. how do you expect to get a new job, when you’re off sick – completely missing the point that I don’t have a husband to provide for me, and the welfare state is cruel!) The bloke tried to excuse my vicar by saying he was a man!! My mum and dad’s vicar is a man and messaged me to see how I was before I ever heard from my own vicar. The church leader at a local church is a man, one who looks a bit awkward at times asking, but always asks how I am when he sees me!
He refuted my ‘claim’ that people aren’t being taught anything, by claiming random older members of the congregation are…but with no evidence. He went on to slag off the previous vicar, a very evangelical vicar who preached the gospel message each week, apparently very ineffectively. Apparently its ok for a church to not be teaching its congregation, and for those who want to learn having to seek bible teaching elsewhere. It’s ok that the church only has 2 home groups – 1 full of families with babies and the other with grandparents but in the daytime – neither suited to a 30 something single woman who hopes to return to work. He also slagged off the charismatic churches that we all came from – the vineyard and new frontiers networks.
Anyway suffice to say I’ am fed up with him, my vicar and with church. I wrote how I imagine church 11 months ago and nothing has changed. The ‘top’ people get asked to do everything. Offers of help are ignored. There is never an announcement of opportunities to serve. Home groups are never advertised, leaving people feeling excluded. We’ve been cramped in the church hall for a few years now while we work out how to reorder our church. People are adjusting their attendance to come less often as the hall is so cramped. Children are shushed! In the absence of space the Sunday school group is made up of kids from 4 – 14! People who aren’t depressed say they never learn anything. There is no vision, no direction, no decision-making, just the maintenance of a holding pattern. If we a school we’d be in a special measures. We are breeding discontent and alienation. The bloke told me that apparently Bishops aren’t interested in ineffective churches, just in the ones where the vicar is having an affair!! He also said that the vicar isn’t going to leave, but I’m not saying we need him to leave, just that he has some training holes.
I left and went to my friend’s house, literally to cry on her shoulder until I could get control of my tears. I texted a few PCC members to get them to let me know when the tea break was so I could join the meeting with the least interruption. I walked in 1.5 hours late to discover at least 4 other PCC members missing too. My friend, the church warden gave me a hug. Another friend asked if I’d been somewhere nice – which i replied I just needed to stop crying! The vicar asked where I’d been and when I told him said it might be good to meet up sometime so I can, “get it off my chest” but left it to me to email him. In his email reply he said,”Whether you should remain on the PCC is one for us to talk about, but as I’ve said before when you mentioned this, the decision is only yours. You have a responsibility to think it through. That thinking also includes reflecting on your responsibility to come to meetings or apologise if you don’t / won’t come or will come late.” I feel truly told off, but still stand by my decision not to walk in late but at the earliest opportunity with tears rolling down my face and hijack the meeting. Since then (48 hours) I have not fallen asleep until 4am, cried myself to sleep, cried at other time in the day, felt like harming myself and lacked the motivation to be able to do things. Really is being part of a church worth it, if it makes you ill!!