Just once I want to name that I knew it would be catastrophic if it ever happened, and when it did, it was. I think that by naming it, I can grieve it and let it go. But too I am afraid that even in the rearview mirror, naming is power and it will come back for a second wave, or as is the case, a third and fourth.
For here is the truth, communities (and churches are communities) are vulnerable to drama. Inasmuch as particular people create drama, they become toxic for the community. Most dangerous of all are the people who are perceived as beyond (or above) drama, for all of us are capable and in any life some drama will fall. When the person perceived as being above drama bears it in bright hue, the community pauses and breathes it in most deeply. In these moments, the community is literally spellbound and totally beholden to the drama that pours forth.
Such was the case as my hero left our community with a quixotic note to fifty of her closest friends. “I can no longer work here… theological and other issues.” In a community of a couple hundred, the fifty felt chosen and the others quickly gathered around. Word was soon out that there was a story to be heard only a phone call away and inasmuch as phone wires still exist they were abuzz. My hero and her minions told dozens of community members stories about me that bore little to no resemblance to my experience. But no matter, the audience was rapt.
For my part, I was frozen in horror. This was a nightmare beyond my imagining. This was my hero, speaking such slander. “She’s my friend,” I wailed. But my lamentations were simply that. “Why?” I pleaded both to my hero and the wind. The answers, if spoken, were carried high above me and heard not by me. My hero was not only leaving me, she was trashing my reputation and pouring poison in the community well. Her intent was clear, I would have neither her nor the community that together we’d worked to build. Her destruction was targeted and expertly executed. The destruction was and is inescapable and all I could do was stare wide eyed and open mouthed. Likely I will spend the rest of my life sorting the shards and learning what is and isn’t mine in all of this.
Six months in the rearview mirror isn’t long enough to know the full affect. What is true is that both the community and I were deeply wounded by the dramafest. Attendance is down, perhaps as much as 20%. Giving is down too, so far it looks like about 10%. These are not unrecoverable, but certainly call for turnaround help that I simply cannot offer. For my part, I can be proud that I held on to the steering wheel and kept us moving forward through the storm. But I was wounded, profoundly, and able to steer only until we could arrived safely to a nearest shore. Now a new leader must be found for the next leg of the journey.
I resent the losses, the pain, the aborted journey. I know that resentments are not healthy and I pray to quickly let go of this one. But today it is real and strong and powerful, this hurt, and I do no one favors by pretending otherwise.
So I leave church, the ministry, and this job partly as a natural outgrowth of midlife spiritual yearnings, but also unmistakably as a survivor still limping from the bruising battle of church drama. I can feel the defeat of losing the war, I did, or pride at fighting valiantly, also true. Mostly today I am simply weary from the struggle.