Saturday, February 14, 2009

Safe Church?

So, there's been a very interesting conversation going on in my circle about how safe should the church be. There are many stories in church employment that go like this: priest hired as an assistant. Things go well at first, but assistant is not a doormat. Personality conflicts arise, and instead of working through them, the rector fires the priest without the assistant having any recourse to mediation, or being able to appeal, to keep their job, or to have any kind of severance for involuntary termination. Oh, and did we mention that church employees are not eligible for severance pay?

One friend pointed out that the church on one hand should be a safe place. We go to Safe Church training so that our people may be free of fear of abuse from clergy. That absolutely is a holy endeavor. She then raises the question of whether church (and God's work) ought to be truly safe. Jesus walked a little on the wild side, himself. He touched unclean people, ate with sinners. I mean, he even stood between an angry mob and a woman caught red-handed in adultery. Definitely not safe.

My own work has not been safe. I remember a schizophrenic man who wasn't always on his medication, but who was an excellent physical laborer and who helped out at every church event. I remember a rough man arriving later in the day, who was begging for help as he considered suicide. In the hospital, I walk every day into rooms where people have MRSA. In the police world, I wear bulletproof and combat boots. No, my world is not "safe". (Sorry, mom.)

But I do expect that my world should be free from abuse. In the Episcopal church, we all vow to "strive for justice and peace and respect the dignity of every human being". We all renounce the evil that is Satan. That should go for all of my bosses and my friends' bosses as well as for me and my friends.

Just because we work in the church and just because our work is "not safe", it doesn't mean that a total lack of job security should necessarily go with it. Firefighting isn't safe either, but if you have to be terminated, you have the right to be represented by a union rep and you have the right to fight for your job. Your job of running into burning buildings isn't safe, but your right to live your life free of undue fear should be.

In my ideal world, when relationships between clergy start going downhill, we should be forced to sit down and work with a freakin' mediator, even if it takes months, to forgive each other's shortcomings and to seek how we can go forward reconciled, renewed, and forgiven. Imagine what a powerful world it could be, if that were the standard your clergy were held to.

Yes, this work is not safe. We are called to go into all the ends of the earth as bearers of God's light. But I do think the church and its human relations and its hiring practices should be.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Amen! ChuckH