Dear Companions in Christ,
Whenever a congregation calls a new pastor (shepherd) the period of adjustment can be unsettling for all in-volved. It is not unusual for some people to feel as if there are changes being made where it can simply be a matter of the congregation and pastor getting to know each other including their strengths and weaknesses but more importantly how each are relating to their calling from God. The following article happened to appear just as both St. Paul’s and my former parish received news of a pastoral transition. I invite you to read the question and contemplate the response. This article could not have appeared at a more appropriate time for all of us.
The God Squad / By Rabbi Marc Gellman
The God Squad: Shepherds, sheep are a team
Updated: April 29, 2015, 02:40 AM. Published: May 2, 2015, 12:01 AM by the Buffalo News, Buffalo, NY.
Q: When the current pastor arrived, our Catholic parish was a vibrant, singing community. Now, after many of his changes, it is not. Many parishioners have left. After a few attempts to speak to the pastor about what has been going on, I wrote a letter to Pope Francis, which I copied both the pastor and the bishop. The letter was signed by my best friend and myself.
To our amazement, we received a letter back from the pastor calling us liars and saying we were trying to scandalize him with false allegations. There were no lies in that letter. After licking my wounds, I decided to share his response, along with a copy of my letter, with the pope and the cardinal.
We all know the story of the Good Shepherd who leaves his flock to find the one lost sheep. Well, due to this priest’s response, a few sheep that have stopped going to church and are even questioning the very basics of our faith. I, being an older, more stubborn sheep, still attend Mass at my church, but in honesty, while physi-cally I’m there, my heart and soul are not.
While my friend and I knew we wouldn’t hear from the pope, as he certainly has bigger fish to fry, we never thought we would be treated so rudely and heartlessly by our parish priest. Would Jesus have been so cruel? So the question is: What do the lost sheep do when the shepherd is not good? – Anonymous, Cyberspace
A: I wish I could spend every column defending clergy. God knows that some of them are bad shep-herds, but let’s just step back for a moment and take a breath.
You’re describing a man who has taken vows such as celibacy and obedience in order to serve God and the Catholic Church until he dies. Are you, Mr. Angry Sheep, ready to make that kind of sacrifice for God and your church?
Please understand, I don’t mean to attack you the way you were attacked by your pastor. Your pastor may indeed be in dire need of people skills and compassion. However, your accusations seem rather mild. They don’t, thank God, include charges of pedophilia or other unforgivable and criminal behavior. From your letter, it seems as though your parish priest’s principal sin, in your eyes, is that he doesn’t sing enough!
You said you’ve tried to talk with your pastor. How many attempts did you make? In any event, your next step should have been to write the pastor a personal letter outlining your grievances and asking again for a face-to-face meeting to work out constructive solutions to the problems you’ve observed for the good of the parish.
Instead, you went over his head and ratted him out. Why you thought that would work out is bewildering.
I’ve seen such actions in synagogues (never my own, where everybody loved me all the time) and Protestant churches. Some congregants treat their clergy rudely, like employees who are at their beck and call. Then, when staff disappoint them, they go straight to the board of trustees and try to make life difficult for them.
Clergy are people who are only trying to serve their congregations and God. Sometimes, how they see that service doesn’t mesh with how their flock sees things. Do you think even a good shepherd is loved by every sheep?
When I interviewed at the synagogue I served for 33 years, I told them flat-out: “I believe that working here will be a blessing for me and a blessing for you, but there is one thing you must know about me. There will not be one day when I think I work for you. Every day, I will be working for God.
There are two reasons I’m telling you this:
- It is true.
- If I worked for you, I’d have to do what you want, but if I work for God, I can do what you need.
I strongly urge you to apologize to your pastor and begin together the hard work of gathering the flock, which is ultimately his sacred task, and being part of a faithful flock, which is your sacred task.
Being a shepherd is hard and being a sheep is hard, but both need each other so neither lacks anything that God has given.
But the good Rabbi’s answer is a lesson for both shepherds and sheep. Every day as believers in God and his Christ we do all things for God. As believers this becomes the motivation for our every day existence because we know through the work we do for God through whatever we do in our daily lives he will provide for what we need.
Communication, honest communication, is the key to a grace-filled and peaceful existence in Christ. A life in Christ is always difficult because the world in general makes it difficult. We need to encourage and support each other, learn to adapt and to, on occasion, agree to disagree but at all times keep our lives focused on the ministry of Jesus Christ through whom all things in the end will come together for the good of all of us both sheep and shepherd alike.
Grace and peace,