Hurt feelings, owning our part in the mess and shaking the dust off our sandals...

One of the hardest things about doing ministry in a small church is when some body gets their feelings hurt. There are lots of different ways this happens - all of them hurt - and all of them are unfortunate, but only some of them can be addressed. I remember the very first time I served Holy Communion at my first church in Saginaw, MI. Not only did I not know the Eucharistic set up drill, but no one told me.  So, I prepared the elements and was ready for worship when a lovely older couple showed up and SHE flipped out! "WE ALWAYS SET UP COMMUNION," she shouted at me. "HOW DARE YOU TAKE THIS AWAY FROM ME."  And broke into tears as she stormed away.

Now, all these years later I can say, "Hmmmm, a little bit of over reaction, yes? What was really going on?" But I didn't know about such things back then. I was physically sick to my stomach. I apologized to the older gentlemen and by the time worship was over the woman had calmed down. She said to me, "I guess I was a little over the top?"  (You GUESS!?!) But she held on to that grudge all three years I was there and I never found a way beyond her hurt feelings.

When I took my next congregation in Cleveland, OH another Eucharistic error happened: Trinity Church came out of the Evangelical and Reformed side of the United Church merger; I grew up in the Congregational side of the family. In my tradition, all baptized folk were welcome at Christ's table - and we were not always particular about baptism - just an open heart. The theology of the Evangelical and Reformed side was much stricter.  So when my two young daughters, aged 5 and 7 respectively, took some bread as the plate was being passed, there was a collective GASP. Because, you see, in Trinity's tradition, only those who were confirmed were allowed to go to the Lord's Table. (NOTE: this was never disclosed either... see a theme?) 

To say that my elders were upset is an understatement. But I saw this as a teaching moment.  And we began a year long study into the meaning and different ways Holy Communion is celebrated in the United Church of Christ. We got through the hurt feelings and moved forward as a congregation, too.  There is an peculiar and sacred irony in that as our study matured, the very old man who set up Holy Communion for the congregation eventually came to me and said:  "You know, I don't think I was ever baptized!" So here was a whole bunch of angst over my two baptized daughters taking Eucharist when the man who had prepared the elements for probably 40 years had never received the OTHER sacrament! (NOTE: that Easter, when I baptized a number of kids from one of the local street gangs, my older friend was baptized, too.)

I still hate when feelings get hurt. I still get physically sick - but not for as long. And I also know that I am not the only reason for hurt feelings whether others own their baggage or not. After all these years, I have learned that at least HALF the problem has nothing to do with me. If people are willing to be adult people of faith - and both faithful and adult are operative - then we can find our way through the mess and even grow in love and respect. If not, I have to listen to Jesus who said: shake the dust off your sandals, man and keep moving. Life is too short. (Or something like that.)

One of the ways hurt feelings happen is when someone has an expectation that is never articulated. I quit trying to read people's minds about 25 years ago. They still act like I should try, but I don't do it any more. If someone has a need, they need to articulate it to me clearly. Sometimes more than once. And if they get called out for not doing this - or for not speaking to me directly about any perceived hurt - that's what adult people of faith mean by accountability. Life in a small church is wonderful, but sometimes very complicated.

It was a great Sabbath and I give thanks to God that the day is coming to a close.


ddl said…
Yep. Rereading. Rethinking. Reimagining. But not reliving. :)
RJ said…
Good for you!

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