Monday, September 29, 2008

When your kids hurt...at the hands of another church

I got the call this morning. Our daughter is living and teaching in Atlanta. She is trying to reconnect to a church and found a large Presbyterian Church with great music and classic architecture. She goes alone, but has been pretty faithful. She recently became engaged and asked me to officiate. I said "YES" and asked them both to find pre-marriage counseling somewhere in Atlanta, since it is nearly impossible to do it at a distance and as a dad.
Yesterday she got up the gumption to ask the pastor of the church in Atlanta. She had to wait for him after the service. A woman asked if she was new to the church. "No" she said, "I've been coming for a year." And with that answer the woman turned away from Liz (she found out that the woman was the official greeter for the day!). When the pastor turned to Liz, she told him that she'd been attending there for a year, was getting married to a man who did not attend church, and her father would officiate at a service in California. She explained how I, as a pastor/father, requested that they get pre-marriage counseling in Atlanta. Would he be available to do counseling with them. Long pause, "Hmmm" he said, "You'd better give me a call at the office this week and we'll have to think about it." And with that he blew her off. She called my wife Sunday afternoon in tears. She had been evaluated and found extraneous. There was nothing in it for that church. She was a bother and an interruption. And, in spite of its excellent music and architecture, she's never going back.
Clearly, the dad in me is angry. But the pastor in me is angrier and sadder. In a day when young people have an already tenuous relationship with organized religion and churches, it takes precious little to send them back out the doors. On paper this church has it all, but in practice it is cold. She asked me to help her look for a new church in Atlanta. Too bad for them.


At 8:36 PM , Blogger drgtjustwondering said...

Oh, Don, I am so sorry to read this. It makes me literally sick to my stomach - such a waste, such a gross misunderstanding of the pastoral role, such an uncivil response - to say nothing of unChristian. Ouch, ouch, ouch. What could it possibly have cost that pastor to give a cheerful, "Sure, give me a call and we'll set a time to talk about it." I do understand about how difficult it is to make appointment-type connections at the door or on the patio, but a friendly, welcoming response is pretty painless. Sheesh.


At 3:06 PM , Blogger E Erickson said...

Sooo sorry to hear this. I really hate when anyone is "dissed", but especially at a church. Makes me wanna call them up and ask how many new members and guest attendees they are actually aware of. I'm glad I didn't feel that way at Salem! I felt at HOME from the first time I went - Dec. 24, 1998, and have never since thought of going anywhere else - unless I visit California :)
I'll keep Liz in my prayers, along with her parents for wisdom in this situation. Have her get married outside!! Ellyn Erickson

At 3:58 PM , Blogger donnjohnson said...


At 10:23 PM , Blogger John Rodkey said...

I join your outrage, Don. Besides the deeply felt hurt Liz suffered from this casual dismissal, the church (no, the Church) has been hurt not only by losing an opportunity to minister to them, but an opportunity to benefit from their ministry within the church.

Especially when marriage and attending (much less participating in) church is held as passe by many, and perhaps the majority of the younger generation, we can't afford to put barriers between young people and their active participation in these institutions.

I hope and pray that Liz will find an even better church situation, where she and her fiance feel loved and accepted.


At 1:59 PM , Blogger Kim said...

This just breaks my heart, but sadly, doesn't surprise me anymore. I pray your daughter finds a real, authentic church home.

At 12:11 AM , Blogger Andrew Murray said...


I came here from the link at Jesus Creed. Although I do not know you, I am so sorry to hear about this situation with your daughter. I can't imagine what it must feel like to receive the cold shoulder at such a critical juncture in her life, and do hope that she and her fiance are able to connect with a good pre-marital counselor.

You mentioned that they live in the Atlanta area. Have they considered North Point Community Church (http://www.northpoint.org), or one of its campuses? I am not from Atlanta (I live in Denver, actually), but I have been listening to North Point's sermons online and it seems like a good church. Perhaps it could be a good place for your daughter and her fiance.


At 8:27 AM , Blogger donnjohnson said...

Thanks Andrew. I'll pass that along to her

At 8:28 AM , Blogger donnjohnson said...

Thanks Andrew. I'll pass that along to her

At 10:16 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I guess that I don't get the shock and outrage. Here's a pastor who has just finished a morning of preaching to his congregation. He's probably been at the office since 5 and may have meetings that afternoon or evening. Your daughter, who from what I can tell has been attending the church for a year but hasn't made the commitment to become a member of the church, asks for premarital counseling from the senior pastor. Then she's shocked when he says to call during the week and they can think about it together.

This pastor may very well have a large congregation which make many demands on his time. He's trying to be a good steward of the ministry that God has given him. He can't say yes to everything. So he tells her to call him and he'll think about it.

What did you want him to do? What did you expect of him? As a pastor yourself you can't identify with his position but instead you are angry? I think that I would have told my daughter to contact the church during the week and ask how they handle premarital counseling instead of approaching the preaching pastor on a Sunday morning. Or when she called in tears, I might have told her to give the pastor some grace and understand the position that he's in.

It seems to me that if you want to be treated in a gracious way, you need to treat others in the same way. I understand your daughter may not be in a place to do that but I would hope that you wouldn't rip the pastor on your blog.

I'm not sure that many pastors, including myself, could live up to your family's expectations.

At 10:38 AM , Blogger drgtjustwondering said...

Perhaps the point being made by the 'shock and outrage' is that what may seem to a busy pastor to be a reasonable response is not always read that way by congregants.

It is true that connections on Sunday mornings about calendar items are difficult to manage - preaching, then meeting and greeting all require energy and concentration. However, it is to be hoped that simple hospitality doesn't get tossed out in the process. Being a good steward of one's ministry responsibilities does not absolve a pastor from being compassionate, sympathetic, open, attentive.

Perhaps a phone call to the office during a weekday would have been more practical and have gotten a better result. Perhaps there are others on the staff who could have offered this service. The point of the report about this interchange is that a searching young woman (with gifts galore which no one at that church will ever know about now) was rebuffed after the service - first by the 'greeter,' which made her uncomfortable and uncertain to begin with - and then by the pastor.

Yes, these things happen. Yes, we all, as pastors, make mistakes and can be perceived as rude or brusque or.... Hopefully, the point of this particular blog report will be for each of us to take a deep breath and remember that patio time - back door time - is also an important ministry responsibility, of which we need to be good stewards. There are probably a dozen thoughtful responses this pastor could have made that would have accomplished both his purposes and this young woman's. Unfortunately, none of those happened.



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