Oh, Dear, Methodists

I’ve seen more ministers in the past few days than I’ve seen in years.  But folks seem to be coming out of the woodwork to check in on my dad and pray and hear that they, too, are being prayed for.

I respectfully bow my head and hold hands and wonder what keeps these folks going.

I’m trying not to be angry, because I’m sure I don’t know the whole story or even the intricacies of my parents’ relationship to the local church, but you know, my folks have no family here.  Everyone they are related to is at least 2.5 hours away.  But they have a church they serve, you know.

And yet, no one has brought over meals for my mom.  No one from the church has called to see how she’s holding up or if she needs anything.  I kind of am a little taken aback by that.  Only one couple has stopped by to visit my dad in the hospital.

The secretary called to complain about something or other, though.

So, on Monday, when we had a waiting room full of ministers and their wives, we got to talking about what a weird life it is and how lonely it can be if the other ministers in the area aren’t friendly and if they don’t have kids who can commiserate with your kids.

But the best part was sitting around talking about the houses in which churches expect you to live.  That’s one way that churches, especially small ones, feel okay about paying folks so little to live on–you get a house to live in for free.  And yet, church congregations make some of the poorest landlords.

We were reminiscing about the house we lived in that had a mold stalactite that hung down a good eight inches into the living room and hung over the TV or about the house with the porch that was rotting off, which they covered up with an indoor/outdoor green fake grass rug, and which my mom fell through once; the stairs that were so uneven that you had to hoist yourself up the last one because it was so much taller than the rest; the new parsonages in which the builders skimped on just about everything; the women’s groups that felt okay about demanding to be let in at 9 p.m. on a school night to make sure that the house was being kept to their standards, the parsonages so full of mold that folks got sick just on the walk-through; the basements talked up as “potential bedrooms for the kids” that ended up having dirt floors and broken toilets.

But my favorite was the story of the minister’s wife so furious at the church for not fixing the bug problem in her house that she put up a sign in the front yard declaring the place to be bug-infested and the congregation at fault.

Needless to say, that family was given a new appointment almost immediately.

Every now and then I wonder if my life wouldn’t be easier if I had stayed a Methodist, or a Christian in general, and then I think about the way congregations treat the one family so dependent on them for their shelter and well-being and I stop missing it right quick.

12 thoughts on “Oh, Dear, Methodists

  1. i have generally been a part of larger congregations that do a little better on the parsonage than what you describe. those are some pretty crappy conditions, i would put up a sign myself.

    it is a shame that we as a Christian faith have such issues with illness & dying. i have heard many horror stories of people assuming too much, that they were closer than they were and should be in the rooms. there are those who “don’t know what to say” so they stay away, never helpful. in the event of death we flood people with food in the first week, but after that when it really hits we are no where to be found and people are left alone again..

    we really could do better.

  2. It’s not just the Methodists. We had the same experience when my Father-in-law was sick and dying 30 years ago. And the Baptist parsonages my husband’s family lived in sound exactly like you describe.

    The unfortunate behavior of “Christians” is what has made my husband and I, as well as all of his siblings, leave the church and raise our children without it. Strangely enough, no one misses it.

    I hope your Dad recovers soon.

  3. Dani, all the ministers’ kids I know have either become ministers or left the church (with the exception, maybe, of the SuperGenius, though I don’t hear her talking about going to church now, so I’m going to put her in a ‘keeping one foot out the door, should she need to leave the church’ category). I cannot think of one I know who has settled into some kind of regular relationship with the Church.

  4. And I am just a big exception to any possible detail about the children of ministers because my mom wasn’t ordained until I was in college. But, she started taking classes to go down that road part time when I was in late grade school. So I was out of the house but not out of the house for some of it, but not all of it. But, oh the things people have said to me or the members of my family…

    But I’m not sure if that has anything to do with the fact that my religious convictions (that sounds so clinical) make a lot of sense in my head and make me feel comfortable, but outside of my head they tend to not make much sense to most other people. Then again, it might be the reason, or the road that got me there.

    Mainly, I just wanted to explain my anomaly status. But I have a good parsonage story.

    When I did the whole lawyer thing down south, there was a church with a parsonage. They were shocked, shocked I tell you, that none of the several ministers and their families that came to interview were interested in the house. I worked with someone who attended that church and who was deeply offended by that. So, the church decided to rent the house out. There was a crime at the house so this person and I went over there to take a look around. It wasn’t a particularly messy crime, but there is no way anyone should have been renting this house. There was a hole in the floor and you could look down to the dirt under the house. For a variety of reasons, this was not related to the crime but to the condition of the house. That’s one example. The person who came with me finally realized what the deal was with the house…because they’d never found out much about the condition of the home before. This person was also fairly active in their church. So, on the happy hand, you’ve got that they realized this is unacceptable and it really seemd to have a positive impact on them, but on the other hand, you’ve got the you’re asking this person who was called by their god to live off your charity and provide spirtiual guidance, mystical religious ritual, and administrative and clerical work for the institution that houses all this and you never bothered to asses the condition of the home you offered them?

    But, I’m glad things are going well there. The Mathlete offered me up to make a lasagna for you guys if we lived closer. He’s sweet like that. :) We decided it would probably be inappropriate to FedEx one.

  5. The Southern Baptist Council on Family Life recently reported that 88% of evangelical kids leave active church life shortly after high school. Some probably will come back later when they have their own kids (I think that’s pretty much a life cycle correlation), but wow…that’s a pretty huge challenge in strategic planning for congregational growth, not to mention whatever else it signifies about the failure to convince kids that congregational life contributes to their happiness.

  6. Does “leave the church” in the context of this discussion mean “switch denominations,” “reject organized religion but not the spiritual basics of the original denomination,” or “reject the spiritual basics of the original denomination as well as organized religion”? Or something else? I’m not being flippant in asking this; I just don’t have a good handle on what level of rejection y’all are discussing.

  7. For the SBC study, “leave the church” means “leave communal faith life.” I suspect that they are overstating — after all, how could they track if some kid from First Baptist goes off and joins a Calvinist outfit? — but the report seems to be saying that the kids still think of themselves as Christians but have dispensed with community expressions as part of their Christian identity.

    Of course, for the original PK discussion, the trend in my experience is either totally out of Christianity as a belief system (sometimes with a detour into full-time hellraising and major drug use, but sometimes into secular social justice organizations) or into the ministry. My sample size is too small to be useful, though.

  8. My grandfather was a PK, and I think it was a lot harder back then. AFAIK, he was able to develop and maintain a fairly normal relationship with his church in adulthood, but maybe he’s an anomaly. I think my mother, as the granddaughter of the pastor, has some issues with the church at the moment, but that may be more because my grandfather’s successor is a bully than anything else. I’ll have to ask my mom if there are any good parsonage stories.

    My church gives the pastor a housing allowance. I believe the pastor who insisted on it already owned a house when he accepted our call, so we turned the parsonage into office/committee meeting space. This arrangement has worked fairly well for all.

    The pastor at my mom’s church won’t let the Building Maintenance Committee members into the parsonage ever – he says he wants to do the maintenance himself, but he’s not a very good handyman, so his wife has to sneak the maintenance guys in when he’s at conferences and so on. The last time they were in the house, they had to replace the kitchen floor from the subfloor up because the pastor had incorrectly hooked up the icemaker on the refrigerator. I can understand and sympathize with the loss of privacy in having (in effect) your boss be your landlord, but I think if you’re lucky enough to have people who take pride in doing a good job wanting to do the work, you should be able to work with them to get what you both want.

  9. I think someone above summed it up with the “fear of death and illness” thing.

    We’ve got good friends from our church who just had a baby. They’ve had a constant parade of casseroles, gifts, and visitors.

    Throughout my illness we’ve received not even emails from anyone at the church asking about how we were doing.

    Another friend from church who just lost a baby reports a similar reaction. No calls, letters, emails or cassaroles. Just an empty place in her heart.

    Sometimes I’m angry about it; other times I just chalk it up to ‘folks being folks’ and leery about facing illness and death.

    As for Church proper, I go through times where I feel cut off from the Love of God by the church experience–folks being folks they sometimes make me feel less like i’m worshipping god and more like I’m back in high school.

    During times like that I opt to stay away from church. I’ve not been to church in 4 months. Some of it is due to my health; the rest of it is because of my need to experience God without noise.

  10. I’m trying to square all of this ith my experience – which is almost the opposite of what y’all describe here.

    We had to tell people to quit visiting and bringing stuff to Lintilla in the hospital, because she wasn’t getting enough rest. When we had been attending BMUMC only a few months, and not yet members, we had our house fire. To say our then-new church body took care of us would be an understatement.

    Oh, and our church, wisely, does not have a parsonage. We pay a housing allowance – which IMHO is a much better way to do things.

    Y’all just need to come to Belle Meade – our founding generation is dying off, and we have lots of babies, but a dwindling number of 30-40-ish adults. Trust me, you’ll be so overcome with love and care, you’ll have to fend people off with a stick.

  11. I am sorry you have felt neglected by your dad’s congregation, but to be fair, he was still in ICU when you posted this. Most ICUs don’t allow visitors other than immediate family. As for phone calls and food, I would assume your mom was spending most of her waking hours at the hospital and wouldn’t have eaten many meals at home anyhow. I know if someone is ill and I call to inquire I am reluctant to leave a message. I really hope the parishoners have reached out now he is out of ICU. If I am wrong about all of this, they must be a bunch of louts who don’t deserve him. I have been praying for all of you.

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