Yep, it’s true. Even ministers have times when it’s a struggle to get up, to keep moving forward, when our hearts and backs ache and we just want to stay in bed. I’m having one of those times. I’ve noticed that February/March are hard months. I’m eager for spring but locked into winter. (Those warm days were just a tease to make me think that spring had sprung.) I feel like our church’s back garden—-the potential for beauty is there, but last year’s dead flowers and weeds are everywhere under a layer of snow. The colors are muted and unfriendly. There’s nothing comfortable about it.
Some of my blue mood is because my marriage is in a hard spot. I know that this can change but I seem to have lost my ability to imagine how. It’s a good thing that my sweetie and I take our commitment seriously, because feeling “stuck” is not something either of us take kindly to. When I stop and intentionally take the long view, I know we are good for each other and that our family is worth whatever hard work it takes to break through. But it’s hard to remember that in the friction of the daily grind.
Things at the church aren’t a bed of roses, either. Actually, a bed of roses is a good metaphor. There are elements of beauty that will knock you over, and then there are the thorns. Sometimes I feel like church people (is it just Unitarian Universalists?) have a habit of focusing their attention on anything negative they can find. We are a vital congregation, a loving congregation, and a growing congregation. When I handed the Board a chart comparing attendance and membership numbers over the years, one member kept insisting that they showed no growth and a stagnation of adult attendance. (The kids’ attendance is growing steadily, and adult attendance is consistent, but no longer going up.) His interpretation of this—-or at least what he kept saying over and over was, “This proves people are dissatisfied.”
The wise (ass) part of me wanted to lean over and ask, “Are YOU dissatisfied? Do you want to talk about instead of projecting it on everyone else?” But I know their actually IS a small group of dissatisfied people. (This Board member has been talking to them.) I can count them on one hand, but they are good at spreading their dissatisfaction around. In fact, the key player in this group has yet to be satisfied with a minister. So I don’t take it personally. But I do take it seriously. The church is getting healthier and healthier. I think that is hard for someone who has come in and rescued the “failing” church more than once. And I think the Board will have to grapple with the fact that we cannot and will not ever please everybody.
Some people don’t like my sermons or my style. That’s okay with me. We are a tradition based on freedom and diversity in belief. Not everyone needs to like me or be like me. It’s okay if they move on. It’s okay if they stay, as long as they continue to treat the congregation with respect. Because, when I look at the numbers, I see a swell of visitors, a large group of newcomers ready to join, and new life and enthusiasm growing. And what I see under it all is that the congregation is changing. And change is hard. It brings losses, even if it eventually means big gains. We are changing. And yes, some people will be dissatisfied with that change.
But does it help to focus on the worry that some people may be dissatisfied? Does it help for leaders in the congregation to spend their time and energy worrying about what we don’t yet do well enough? Shouldn’t we celebrate what we do well? Shouldn’t we use the programs that are thriving as models for others? Shouldn’t we appreciate that our staff is more stable, our finances more dependable, our mission clearer and our plan for the future more realistic than ever? Shouldn’t we be letting everyone know that, imperfect as we are, we are so much better than before?
I think I am feeling tired. As minister, I am the “vision keeper” of the congregation. I shouldn’t be the only one. I have hope that the Board and other leaders will remember and help carry on this work. Here is one little example: This year, our pledges came in lower than expected leaving us with a budget deficit. We made a special plea and a few generous families gave a “matching grant” to help us raise the funds we needed. At the Board meeting on Wednesday, we discussed that we not only met our goal, but have raised more than we needed. About $400 more right now, but there are several events from the “South Valley Challenge” that are still to come. I imagine we will end with at least a $1000. surplus. The Board knows this. But there was no celebration, no energy, no relief, nothing. We talked about how hard it’s been to get the men’s toilet unplugged. We talked about governance. We talked about how hard it is to recruit volunteers and find leaders. We talked about everything except the fact that we succeeded. We MORE than succeeded.
I’m tired because I’m out here dancing alone. It’s enough to give a minister the blues.