Sunday, September 13, 2015

He Wants Me to Call Him: The Care and Feeding of Clergy

An old acquaintance, whom I haven’t seen for over ten years, has left his phone number with a third party saying that he would like me to call him. Ordinarily I would be delighted to make a contact with someone from the past, and I have maintained relationships going back over quite a number of years; but there is an interesting background to this request.

            This man, let’s call him Ozzie, mainly because I don’t know anybody named Ozzie. Here’s what happened more than once, twenty years ago. Ozzie would make an appointment with me and come to my office. He would sit down, and with a paternal smile take a list out of his pocket, and then begin by quoting from Holy Scripture, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness…” [Galatians 6:1-2]. 

            Having set the stage Ozzie would read me a list of what he considered to be my transgressions. My first response was concern, then a certain amount of shock, then the realization that he wasn’t only listing what he considered my “transgressions;” but things that he didn’t think that I was doing right. My first response, knowing my human frailty, was to accept his critique.

The second time he did this he graciously added, “I know you have an Alcoholic Personality, but …” I told him that he was out of line. I had been in recovery for over twenty-five years, and I had gone through quite a bit of therapy. One of my discoveries was that I was too willing to accept shame and blame. I realized that this wasn’t really about me, but about him and his need to have power and control over others.

Around that time I discovered that Ozzie was going into the office every Monday morning with a list of mistakes he found in the Church bulletin. As you can imagine Ozzie was driving them nuts. The result was that I had to firmly tell him that he didn’t have a ministry of correction, and that the Office staff didn’t need him sitting in judgment on them. There is only one accuser of the saints.

Ozzie wants to get me to call him by leaving a message through a third party. That by the way is called “triangulation;” the attempt to apply leverage by getting a third party to get someone to do something. Sometimes that’s not important, but in Ozzie’s case it is. Ozzie has easier and more direct options. He can ask his Rector to find my phone number, or he can call the diocese and ask them for contact information; then he can initiate the call himself.

Enough years and geographical distance have separated us that I have gained some perspective. I don’t harbor any bitterness, and I extended forgiveness to Ozzie years ago. That’s not the point. What is the point is, that there are people in the Church who think that it is their responsibility to correct the pastor and keep him in line; but be aware that they think it’s their God given ministry to correct everybody else too, and you might be next.

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