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What sort of personal interaction do you expect with your priest/minister/rabbi/etc?

(18 Posts)
Earlybird Mon 29-Jun-09 00:39:21

Our church has a new minister who has been in the job for just over a year. The church spent a long time searching for the 'right person', and we were very excited to welcome him.

In the pulpit, he is articulate and gives thought provoking and interesting sermons. Initially, he seemed awkward during personal interactions, but I put it down to being shy and perhaps a bit overwhelmed.

A year on, I find my personal interaction with him is not improving. I don't know if he's shy or rude, but we have not had a conversation of more than two or three sentences since he arrived (ours is a small church/congregation). He will walk up and chat to dd (and other children) with great warmth, and then say hello to me as he is walking away.

To give credit where it is due, he did come to the funeral visitation at a nearby church when a close family member died extremely suddenly in Feb, but since that time has never really spoken to me or asked how I am doing.

I have become increasingly sensitive to being 'snubbed' or 'ignored' and now am beginning to wonder if I can/want to stay at the church when the pastor (supposedly my spiritual leader and the person who is supposed to provide pastoral care to the members of the congregation) is so sorely lacking in interpersonal skills.

FWIW, he is around 50 years old, and seems to have difficulty relating to women who are his peers. He is also single - if that matters.

Thoughts or advice?

Earlybird Mon 29-Jun-09 00:43:29

Should add that I would not expect any conversation on Sundays pre/post sermon.

But dd and I go to several relaxed and fairly social church events a week. Those are the times when it would seem appropriate to speak/chat - as I do with many other members of the congregation.

Tortington Mon 29-Jun-09 00:55:51

there was a time when the children were younger that they were ( all three) altar servers in the local catholic church. The priest was brilliant, briliant with them and brilliant with me.

when i moved house - i moved church - obviously - and well, it just was never quite the same. No matter how much i tried to tell myself that its god that matters not the priest. It mattered - even though it shouldn't have.

I think i valued more than i let on - my status. young mum who could be arsed to get her kids to masss sunday morning - who took them to confessional saturday. daughter was may queen, son held the Holy Gospel book for the priests reading.

and when we moved - it just all went.

they dabbled at being altar servers in the new church, but there were slight nuances to the way things were done that left them feeling out of place - and they didn't keep it up.

unfortunatley i never really got that bond with church, priest community again and i only go to church very infrequently when catholic guilt overwhelms.

don't really know if thee isa moral to that story - but to let you know i think i know where you are coming from.

sometimes it doesn't matter if you have a meeting with him, or askspecfically for a role - its just not comfortable. but worth a try.

good luck

Peabody Mon 29-Jun-09 04:34:18

I think different churches (and ministers) have different cultures.

Like you, I was used to getting a certain amount of pastoral care from the priest in charge. I moved churches and found that in the new church, there is no pastoral care at all. No one minds because that's always been the case.

Earlybird Mon 29-Jun-09 18:28:45

I think you both are right that the culture of the church is changing with his presence.

Part of me feels resentful that this man who should be kind and welcoming is, in reality, not that way at all. His attitude makes me feel awkward and rejected, and could cause me to leave behind a place where dd and I have friends and a long personal history, and I feel torn (and a bit angry) about that. Can you feel a sense of community in a place where the leader is so distant, cold and even rude? I am torn as to whether I can or should stay in spite of him.

I hesitate to ask for more of a role/involvement as I feel so alienated. I cannot imagine going to him for guidance or comfort in the midst of a personal crisis, or a crisis of faith.

ThingOne Mon 29-Jun-09 18:33:30

That's hard earlybird. I have regular chats with my vicar but sadly he's just about to move away. I hope so much I'll find somebody else I can relate well to.

MaryBS Mon 29-Jun-09 18:41:11

Is he like that with others?

I think if he gives interesting sermons, its not that he is cold and unwelcoming, but that he either doesn't know he is coming across like that, or he doesn't know how to interact properly, which should have been picked up before now.

I think, if you can, you should try talking to him. He might be horrified at how he is perceived.

(just to add, I have to work really hard at my "people" skills, because I have Asperger's. Yet I have nearly completed my ministry training. Perception is an absolute killer because its all about what people think, and not about what they say)

Earlybird Mon 29-Jun-09 19:18:03

With the exception of the two church secretaries, I think he is generally awkward with women. Hard to know really without asking others what they think, and that seems to border on seeming gossipy. He is wonderful with children and really makes a point of playing/interacting with them. During church suppers, he usually sits with either the youth group or at one of the 'senior citizen' tables.

I know some families have invited him to their home for a meal, and other men have taken him out for lunch. Perhaps they have a different perception/relationship.

If I were going to talk to him, how would you suggest I approach the subject?

abraid Mon 29-Jun-09 19:23:08

OUr parish priest is teh same: wonderful with children and men, but finds any woman of more or less childbearing age hard to talk to. I just want to shake him and tell him to talk to us like normal human beings.

oodlesofpoodles Mon 29-Jun-09 19:37:45

Ours is lovely 1-to-1 but seems rather shy in a group which is rather a drawback for a priest. He comes across as humourless in church but he is secretly witty with a dark sense of humour. Pastoral care isn't great afaik but our last priest had shit loads of money 'resting' in his account a la Father Ted so he is an improvement on that.

Smithagain Mon 29-Jun-09 19:46:15

Our minister is similar - by his own admission, he finds social interaction difficult, but he's a great leader of worship and preacher. He's also strangely good at enabling people to use and develop their talents - has brought a good deal of lay leadership out of the closet during the last few years.

We have a network of people within the church who are naturally gifted at pastoral care and they tend to step into the breach and make sure people feel loved and cared for (and nag him when he hasn't realised that someone really does need a bit of support).

MaryBS Tue 30-Jun-09 07:20:42

I think I'd probably invite him to a family lunch, and try to get to know him. If you can, ask him whether you've done anything to upset him, but I wouldn't be surprised if he is unaware of how he is coming across. Its all unspoken, if he struggles with body language, it might be why he struggles to get on with women his own age (and is probably why he is single!). Relating to other men who tend not to use body language to communicate, or children, who just don't think about other people's body language fits in with that.

AMumInScotland Tue 30-Jun-09 09:10:03

I can understand why you find it difficult, but at the same time I think the expectations that people put onto one person just because they are ordained can be unrealistic. Being ordained doesn't suddenly make you great in all areas of your work. The selection process and the training will help to pick out the right candidates, and teach them how to do things, but at the end of the day your clergy person is still one single flawed human being, no better or worse than the rest of us.

What should be happening is that the church community works together as a whole to make best use of everyone's skills and compensate for areas where some are lacking - so there should maybe be a pastoral team to make sure that everyone feels supported and welcomed. The whole responsibility should not be one one person.

abraid Tue 30-Jun-09 15:28:40

I think this is one of my biggest gripes about the Catholic church. So much power is given to the parish priest and so little, still, resides in the laity. Although there are various people who help out enormously at our church, we could really do in having a kind of A-team behind him. Nobody really knows who's in charge if the priest is taken suddenly ill or whatever. As priests become rarer and rarer and older and older, this must be an issue.

My husband is a Scottish presybterian and I am impressed by how their elders work to support the minister.

abraid Tue 30-Jun-09 15:28:42

I think this is one of my biggest gripes about the Catholic church. So much power is given to the parish priest and so little, still, resides in the laity. Although there are various people who help out enormously at our church, we could really do in having a kind of A-team behind him. Nobody really knows who's in charge if the priest is taken suddenly ill or whatever. As priests become rarer and rarer and older and older, this must be an issue.

My husband is a Scottish presybterian and I am impressed by how their elders work to support the minister.

Smithagain Tue 30-Jun-09 16:22:49

I think you are right, abraid. My church is Methodist, with a very strong tradition of lay people being in leadership positions, alongside the minister.

Our minister has had two sabbaticals, each of three months, during the last few years. It's been fantastic how both times, people were able to step up to the mark and not only keep things running, but have some creative input into the way we do things. And our minister freely admits that it's disconcerting to see how well things run without him! At the same time, he has a very strong influence on the overall direction of the church and has created an atmosphere where people feel enabled to use their gifts. Including those who are good at pastoral care - which is where this conversation started.

Niecie Tue 30-Jun-09 16:52:01

Our old vicar used to be like this. He was not very good at chit chat and in the two years I went to the church before he left, I don't think I exchanged more than half a dozen words with him. He wasn't very good with children either! However, he was a great preacher and delivered interesting sermons.

He was married with children but his family rarely came to church - not sure what that says about him though!

He left to work for the diocese training new vicars, something he was probably better suited to as he was very knowledgeable on theology.

I actually found the interegnum period, before our new vicar was appointed last year, much easier. We have 3 curates, one trainee vicar type and 2 non-stipendary ones and they did and still do quite a lot of services. We also have members of the laity doing services too.

I do agree that spreading the burden, so to speak, makes for a happier church. To have one person preach to you every Sunday means that if you don't like that person or don't agree with their brand of Christianity it makes it very difficult.

The lack of the social skills of the old vicar has been brought into sharp relief by the new one who has managed to speak to everybody and not look like he would rather be somewhere else.

Earlybird - Do you have any friends in the congregation? Maybe it is worth asking them how they find your vicar. I don't think it is gossip as it isn't like you are talking about something that doesn't directly affect you. Maybe together you and a friend could try engaging the vicar in conversation. With 3 of you there would be no need to uncomfortable silences. If you try hard enough you might actually be able to draw him out a bit.

Just as a matter of interest, who selected your new vicar? Our is selected by the church wardens primarily and one of them is a woman so somebody who wasn't comfortable with both men and women probably wouldn't have got through the selection process.

Earlybird Fri 03-Jul-09 19:19:05

Thanks for your thoughts.

Our church is relatively small, and since the arrival of the minister there has been some staff turnover. ATM, he is a 'one man band' (with secretarial support), though they are looking to hire a youth and/or associate minister. So there is no one else on staff who could fill the pastoral care gap.

It is worth saying again that he gives thoughtful and interesting sermons, loves talking to and playing with children and seems to be comfortable with men. He is a handsome man so I sometimes wonder if he has had trouble 'fending off' women in the past so now simply avoids them whenever possible.

I imagine he must feel quite lonely as he is new to the church and new to town - I know he has confided in a few people (men!) that settling in has been more difficult than he expected. Several of us have wanted to reach out to him, but are put off by his awkward social skills. He may simply be shy, but it comes across as quite rude.

After a year of odd behaviour, and dozens of occasions of being virtually blanked (he will walk past and stop to talk animatedly to dd and say nothing to me other than a 'hello' as he walks away), I now avoid interaction with him.

I wonder if I should begin to look to transfer my church membership elsewhere.

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