Thursday, February 12, 2009

Safe Church For Clergy

So, I've been my particular faith tradition we put a lot of effort a few years back into making the church a safe place for children - and adults - in terms of sexual abuse/misconduct prevention. So much effort that we have mandatory training, awareness, procedures and the like that are highly effective. Consciousness and levels of care have been raised to appropriate levels. I'm so very glad we've done that work. It has paid off.

So, here's my question: Could we do something similar for our clergy and lay employees? Could we make the church a safe place to work? Could we initiate standard accepted procedures and practices for hiring and firing, and outline processes for what to do when things don't seem to be working out? Could we mandate HR training?

It seems to me that this is one of the biggest ongoing problems for us. And the degree of power imbalance and lack of accountability and transparency that goes along with these situations sets us up for creating undue hurt, trauma, and long-term scarring of clergy's and layworkers' vocations (not to mention that of their families), as well as confusing parishioners and damaging their faith in the institutional church.

Anyone disagree?


Anne Marie said...

Amen, sister! I am amazed by what is allowed to go on inside the church--and how we, as staff/clergy, are expected to hide it from the congregation so that they are not disillusioned. After a particularly bad period, and with some serious counseling, I finally came to realize that the pattern is quite similar to the way abused spouses and children learn to behave. In public, the abuser is often well-liked and respected, but insider the house, he/she continues the manipulative and damaging behaviors. So, the hurt is double--we must endure the abuse and, at the same time, stand by and watch the abuser receive the love and adoration of the congregation. Our system of organizational management lacks accountability and process. Shame on us for failing to care for all of God's children. Prayers for healing offered for you, dear twin!

Joie said...

Amen. I'll say it again, Amen!!! Really, we have to talk soon.

Joie said...

And now I read Anne Marie's comments. Yep. Ditto.

The Rev. Michael Cadaret said...

I've said many times that we have no introduction to HR standards and practices. Essentially we are trained to be solo practitioners. We are not trained to manage other clergy as rectors of multi-clergy staffs, nor are we trained to serve as assisting clergy. As far as managing lay professionals, we are taught to bitch about musicians and administrators, instead of forging healthy, boundary-ed professional relationships.

How many of our classmates went into positions with clearly defined duties only to find the 'other duties assigned' is what really comprises the job. Or, the reverse is also true: generalist job then pigeon-holed into very specific tasks. Or the 'I'm collaborative' rector really being directive, and its reverse: the 'I'm equipped to be a mentor' turns out to be non-communicative and non-directive.

Practice in the areas of reviews, accountability going up the chain of command, secondary inputs, and paths of recourse for the subordinate is uneven at best but most often non-existent.

Then in those places where we serve as solo practitioners, there are very few sets of standards for the disciplining of misbehaving and abusive parishioners. What do you do with the mean, crazy bullies? Most of the time you have to make integrity-crushing decisions to placate and accommodate the bullies - we have to be good politicians and (frankly) manipulate the situation to accomplish anything.

You're right Jennifer, the church really isn't that safe for clergy. But, I also remember Jesus' advice: wise as serpents, innocent as doves. It's impossible to keep that wisdom and innocence in balance. I'm also not sure that ours is a safe vocation, just generally.

BUT, if all of the above is true and we are aware of these inherent challenges, aren't we obliged to take better care of each other as colleagues? Wouldn't caring better for on another, make each of us more capable of contending with the 'real' challenges of our vocation?

No answers, and maybe just a long-winded 'amen'. Anyway, I'm feeling you, sister.

The Vagabond Priest said...

I have so many things I could say right now that I can't think of anything to say. All my own hurt and anger is comin' back out, and I say amen, amen, and amen!

Our church is NOT safe for clergy. I have said again and again that it's ungodly that clergy can lose a job, their home, their livelihood with no notice, no recompense, no severence, no appeal. It's powermongering in the worst and it makes me SOOOOO angry!

This is after a lot of therapy.

I've been told that church and clergy is like a marriage. I say that's b*llsh*t. I picked my spouse already and he's NOT a church! A job should not treat you like a bad relationship, and you know what? When a job did abuse me, I LEFT! Like anyone should in an abusive relationship.

It pisses me off in the church that we protect the abusers and punish the abused.

I would love to see MANDATORY severence (except if the clergy person abused kids or cooked puppies or something really horrible)- every single freakin' clergyperson has a decent chance to get out alive and okay.

What we do to each other is BS. Extreme BS.

Rant over. Going to bed now.

Progressive Pragmatist said...

Just read this post. From the lay person's perspective, we need better ways to facilitate "amicable divorces" for lack of a better term or at least an evaluation/assessment every 10 years about how things are going where people can honestly say what they think. I've been at churches where the rector just stayed on waaaayyyy to long and it was life-sucking for the congregation. Or the rector (after 25 years or more...) becomes more emperor/dictator than facilitator/leader.... it's just not healthy for any organization to have the same leadership for too long (e.g., innovation becomes challenging/impossible). You end up with the cult of personality.