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Friday, March 06, 2009

First Friday #2: A question of Priorities


Those of you who are regular readers of this blog may remember that last month, I initiated a monthly column I'm calling "First Friday". It's an opportunity for any one of you to write in your particular situation or problem and get what I consider expert advice from some of the best of the lay and ordained leaders in the Diocese of Newark.

You can read more about who they are and what they do here. I am deeply grateful for the obvious time each one spent in considering, praying and responding to this month's question.

Last month's debut edition was "A question of discernment" which you can read here.

This month's "First Friday" question comes from Phillip, who writes:

Dear Reverend Elizabeth,

I'm a curate at a beautiful Anglo-Catholic church which I love. It's my dream job. I've been ordained a year and I think my rector is going to fire me.

I was presiding at the 7:30 AM Sunday Mass - just starting the Eucharistic prayers - when one of the women in the congregation - a 70-something who is a bit of a hypochondriac - collapsed in the pew. I didn't know what to do, but since the other people were tending to her, I continued saying the Mass.

Someone called 911 and suddenly, the sanctuary was filled with emergency people. They were doing what they know how to do. I continued to say the Mass. I thought I was doing my job and I left the professionals to do their job.

Turns out, she had a stroke and is in serious condition at the local hospital. My rector is furious with me. He thinks I should have stopped what I was doing and help.

Not only that, he thinks I should apologize. No one who was there has complained or said anything to me, so I'm not sure to whom I should apologize. Isn't that the most important thing?

This is being blown way out of proportion. My rector is turning everyone against me. Some people have stopped talking to me. I see the judgment in their eyes. What did I do that was so wrong?

To tell you the truth, I've been thinking for some time now that my rector may be just a little bit envious of my energy and my age and my ability to see things clearly for what they really are. I'm a much better preacher and liturgist than he is. Everyone tells me that. I think he's trying to turn me into a 'little him.'

I'm afraid I'm going to lose (sic) my job. What should I do?


The "First Responders" this month include Louie Crew, Marge Christie, Fran Trott, Denise Haines, Diana Clark, Abby Hamilton and Maggie Gat. You can read more about who they are here.

Their responses are as varied and intelligent, passionate and compassionate as they are. There is so much to learn from each of these responses.

Please feel free to add your own response to Phillip or to any of the responses.

The first one is from Louie Crew:

Phillip,

I'm as old as John McCain. Recently my left leg went to sleep, in a deep sleep. I was standing up and holding a plate of finger food. I shifted more weight to the left leg, gently I thought, to try to awaken it.

Instead, the left leg "disappeared." As I tumbled, I stretched out my arms so that I would hit the floor not using them -- a lesson I learned from two earlier falls that left permanent damage to the arms, which I had used to try to block falls.

My large belly cushioned me, as did the thick carpet. All I got out of the fall was a minor nose bleed, but since I am on blood-thinners, it looked like a major gusher.

I looked up to see a man in a priest's collar. "I am also an MD," he said. Fortunately I had not landed on the nearby food table or on another guest.

In record time, someone had me in a wheel chair.

The best part of the bad experience was that most people were too busy to notice, and those who attended me so well, made every effort not to draw attention. Feeling returned to my leg, and I stood on it easily as I got into my host's car. I was quite dehydrated, and the doctor felt that my dehydration likely prompted the leg to go to sleep even while I was standing on it.

All this occurred at the consecration of a bishop coadjutor in a diocese where my progressive views are quite unpopular. The last thing I wanted was to call attention to myself.

I am very grateful that those who attended to me did so well and in a way that did not make more of a blip in the festivities honoring the new bishop.

I see your narrative in the context of my own. Since the helpers needed were on the scene and performing well, I think you were right to continue the liturgy.

Since some in the congregation may not have recognized that professionals were helping, you might have paused to say, "God is among us actively supporting the professionals who are attending to XXX, and let's take a moment to pray for XXX and those who attend her."

After the prayer, you might have said, "Let us continue to pray for XXX and those who attend us as part of of our continuing worship."

Of course, it is easier to see possibilities after the fact than it is during the stressful moment.

Now to damage control as Christian service:

Do not return gossip for the rector's gossip. And don't trash him to anyone else. It is understandable that you see the possibility of jealousy, but only God knows his heart. Don't report to anyone else your suspicions, lest you add a new poison to the waters already polluted.

Assume that the rector's motives are good, that he wanted to honor XXX and that he wants the congregation to know that people come first in God's protocol. You may differ on HOW XXX might have come first, but not on THAT she comes first.

Speak to your rector face to face and graciously. Acknowledge that the liturgy is not like other theater: if the show must go on, it must go on as a way to honor all present, not just to honor God. We honor God in honoring one another.

Stress that's what you thought you were doing. Since some have not seen your point of view, offer to write a brief account in the parish newsletter, including ways that you now see you might have continued while registering more explicit awareness of and concern for what was going on regarding XXX. Don't be defensive. Don't grovel. Be loving.

Offer to grow from the experience.

We will all have chances to grow until we die, and maybe in the hereafter. Where possible, grow with the parish, not in antagonism to it. That requires humility. You would not be admitting you are wrong when you don't think you were wrong: you would be admitting that you can learn more effective ways to communicate.

If the situation has already gone too far and you are asked to leave, or elect to leave, be very careful not to learn the wrong lessons from the experience. It was an unfortunate miscommunication, nothing more. Don't make more of it. Learn how you might have communicated more clearly, and how you might communicate more clearly in the future.

God bless you, God bless your rector, God bless XXX and her attenders, and God bless your congregation.

Louie Crew


Marge Christie
, an undisputed leader in our diocese and the national church, had a different take on the matter.

Dear Phillip,

I am an eighty year old lay woman, and my answer to you probably comes directly out of that time frame. I have seen many lay leaders, deacons, priests and bishops, and to my mind the good ones care about the people in their communities, their congregations, their dioceses.

So that leads me to say that I find it appalling that you would continue the liturgy while a member of your congregation was visibly in distress. I, too, think people matter more than things -- always; and my reading of Jesus' ministry is that he thought so too. I'm in a Bible study class currently that is reading Mark in veritable slow motion so that we can really come to understand the parables and the miracles, and they are laced with Jesus' concern for people.

I also have seen many still wet-behind-the-ears, newly minted priests, and your evaluation of your rector also strikes me as appalling. New priests have a lot to learn, that's what being a curate is all about, and it just might be that his preaching and liturgical skills are precisely right for the parish and the congregation. Certainly he knows that every member of the congregation matters more than proceeding on schedule with the "mass."

Marge Christie

Another of the empowered baptized, Fran Trott, responds:

Dear Phillip,

Time to stop dreaming. It is not enough to be young, energetic, handsome, charming and wonderfully good at reciting and delivering prepared speeches which have been pondered ahead of time.You were hired not as the rector, but the curate. Your rector and the members of the congregation are entitled to have you able to engage with them in real life in waking reality and to listen to and take them seriously.

When you were ordained you were told that "You are to love and serve the people among whom you work, caring alike for young and old, strong and weak, rich and poor" ..."and to perform the other ministrations entrusted to you." The second and third parts can be a whole lot tougher and more unexpected than the first. You are to be "pastor, priest and teacher." Pastors do more than preach and recite. Fortunately you can still ask your rector to instruct you on points he deems are not your strengths. He's probably already learned a lot about his own.

You may see what appears to you to clearly be the real thing but it is quite likely that your rector sees from a wider and longer perspective. He may miss his own youthful energy. This doesn't mean envy of yours. If your sermons are lovingly Christ-centered then he is most likely to be happy to have you along to spread the good news of the Gospel. You don't say he has complained about that aspect of your work.

If members of the congregation have not spoken to you about the incident in question it doesn't mean he is turning you against them. It may mean they have spoken to him about their concern for your continuing with the service instead of stopping and going to the scene of the woman's collapse. If you had done so you could have asked those people who were not directly involved in the rescue to stand back to give her air. After she was taken out you might have returned to the altar, said a prayer for her and her family and begun the service again. You did say you were just beginning the Mass.

Yes this would have thrown the schedule off. Those who had to leave early would have the ability to do so quietly and the rest could stay.

Should this have happened in the middle of the Consecration of the Elements, I do believe it would have been all right to stop, make the sign of the cross over them and go to the scene of the difficulty. When it was resolved you could have done as above, praying and then continuing with the Consecration. Your rector I am sure will be happy to discuss this possibility with you once you have reconciled with him and resolved to be more effective in your ministry.

You should apologize . Thank your rector for the chance to do so. It is all right to admit to him and to the congregation (during Church Announcemounts or in the Newsletter) that you were unsure of yourself when the woman's stroke occurred and to say you were grateful that the congregation was able to act quickly. It would also be a real plus if you could pay a visit to the woman, apologize to her and then listen for a while. You don't have to have all the answers. Just listen a little and pray with her.

How well did you know the woman you assumed to be a hypochrondiac? All stresses, aches, pains and discomforts are not upfront and visible and she obviously was not in the best of health. It may be that the judgement you see in congregants' eyes is mistrust of you because of a fear that should they have a pastoral emergency you would not be competent to minister to them,

It's the lenten season. You might as well get yourself forgiven by Easter by the rector, the congregants and yourself. (God has already forgiven all of us. We just have to do the hard work of living into it a day at a time.)

Fran

Denise Haines continues to be one of my role models of ordained leadership. She has this to say:

Dear Phillip,

I will let others give you good advice on how to respond to a medical emergency in the pew in the midst of the Eucharist. I am more interested in your relationship with your rector and how that fits into the parish dynamics.

I agree that you will probably be losing your job if things continue as they are now. Not because of what happened on Sunday morning, but because “Everyone tells me (I am a better preacher and liturgist than the rector)” and you seem to believe it. Your inexperience, naïveté, and vulnerability to compliments, especially the ones that compare you favorably to the rector, have led you falsely to put yourself at the center of a parish drama. In reality, you are almost certainly a pawn being used by factions who are either for or against the rector. Trust me, your supporters are not “for” you, they are “against” the rector and using you in that struggle.

Many a curate has fallen victim to this kind of intrigue and they nearly always end up having to leave the church sooner or later even if the rector is forced out ahead of them. There ought to be a school for curates with a course called, “How to avoid the role of Hero when the rector is in trouble.”

This church may well be a dream setting for you but it most assuredly is not a dream job. Find a wise mentor or therapist, stay out of the gossip stream, and don’t believe your press. You’re not that good….yet.

The Rev. Canon Denise Haines

A seasoned rector, Diana Clark, had this to say:

Dear Phillip:

This is a tough one, Phillip. You’re obviously in a lot of pain and perhaps you’ve worked things out by now. It’s Lent afterall.

There’s no way to prepare for everything that happens in worship, but whatever does seems magnified far more than if it happened ‘on the street.’ But it’s a good opportunity to discuss how similar situations might be handled in the future. What’s helpful in one instance, isn’t necessarily in another. Most of the time, it’s just like life: complicated and not perfect and in need of God’s grace and mercy.

It sounds like you are all stuck in the question: who is right and who is wrong? Perhaps there’s no right answer and questions to ask is might be: Do I want to be reconciled or do I want to be right? How can faith be applied? Where is God in all this?

Other things to think about: Would you have acted differently if the person who collapsed was not a 70-something hypochondriacal woman but a 5-year-old little boy with a heart problem? What if it had been the 11 a.m. service instead of the 7 a.m.? Would you think differently about discussing this with the rector if he was a fabulous preacher? What’s wrong with talking with him about how hard it was to be standing up behind the altar and not knowing what to do? Can he tell you who he thinks you need to apologize to?

I doubt that there is any dream job in the church, just as there are no dream marriages. Both are about transformation. The cross is involved. Jesus was led into the wilderness of temptation after he heard that he was God’s beloved Son to practice saying no to temptations to allow booths to be built around him or to build a booth around God’s proclamation to him. People were changed by their encounter with him—or not—and his experience with the Syrophoenician woman seems to say that he was changed, too.

God’s been working on me for a while now—I think I’m a bit closer to 70 than you probably are. Same’s probably true for your boss. There are a lot more difficult things that can happen in church than having someone collapse and the priest not begin sure what to do. Crying babies can send people off to the church in the next town or even down the road. Let’s not even talk about the music program. I once had two teenagers inserting foul language in the words of the Nicene Creed.

We’re called to enable God to create the beloved community and to let job make us priests in the process.

May all we do be in the name of love. With God’s help.

Diana

Abby Hamilton recently retired, but is hardly retiring. Here's what she had to say:

To Phillip:

I came very close to taking a pass on your story/questions. Truth be told, I don’t know whether to laugh, rage, or weep. So I am expressing all of my reactions with this caveat: You asked, I answered.

To laugh (my initial reaction to your story): It’s a joke, right? It’s an outline of a screen-play for a really bad British comedy at the expense of the Anglo-Catholic tradition, right? I could add a few scenes: the EMTs genuflecting as they wheeled the gurney down the aisle, the woman in question having a fatal heart attack when she thought it was her casket being wheeled out, the congregation doing a tennis-match head dance as they went from the celebrant to the victim, the voice of the celebrant getting louder and louder to overcome the other voices. The clueless curate is a really weak ending, though. It’s a joke, right?

To rage (next reaction): Okay, maybe it’s not a joke. What should you have done? Stopped everything and gone to the “woman’s” side. Once the emergency calls had been made and EMTs arrived, the congregation should have been called into prayer. I have it on a life-time of experience that Jesus’ dinner doesn’t get cold and the Cook doesn’t take offense.

What should you do now? Get down on your knees and make a good confession. You said, “…I’m not sure to whom I should apologize…”. Here’s my list:

+ to Jesus for being such a serious incarnational misrepresentation of the Lord of the Sabbath (Mark 2:27; John 9:14)

+ to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John for not having read, much less understood, anything recorded under their names

+ to your seminary Pastoral Theology instructors for having slept through their classes

+ to the Anglo-Catholic tradition for turning its liturgical glory into idolatry

+ to your Bishop and whatever constitutes a Commission on Ministry in your canonical diocese for giving them the impression that you had some serious psychological, emotional, and, most important, spiritual maturity

+ to your congregation, especially those at that 7:30 AM service, who were forced to make a choice between attending to proscribed ritual or to commanded compassion

+ to your Rector for the humiliation he carries – in case you didn’t get it, “the buck stops with him” – it is to him that people will voice their anger and confusion and, in addition, I would think he is not the slightest bit envious of your youth and energy (notice I didn’t mention your ability). Trust me, he’s not trying to turn you into a “little him”. He’s trying to help you grow into being a real priest.

+ to the EMTs whose life-saving work you inhibited by your continuing noise. I can’t imagine how they were able even to concentrate

+ to the un-named “woman” for your _______. I’ll leave it to you to fill in the blank

To weep: because I’m afraid it’s not a joke and because your heart will be broken when you understand that the last thing the “woman” might and may have heard was “in the night he was betrayed” and know that the “he” was her.

Abby Hamilton

Last but certainly not least, Maggie Gat, who had a similar experience:

Dear Phillip,

Reading your experience certainly brought back memories.

Once upon a time when I was newly ordained, an elderly member of my congregation died. It was one of the first funerals I had ever done. As usual the immediate family sat in the first pew. Behind them sat the extended family and other guests.

As I began to preach, a man in the third row suddenly doubled over in his pew. The man behind him reached over and talked quietly and then looked at me and signaled that it was okay, before getting up and walking out. A parishioner, who I knew to be a policeman followed him. Within minutes, while I was still preaching they came back with police, ambulance attendants (no sirens sounded) and a stretcher.

I kept right on preaching as the man was placed on the stretcher and wheeled out of the church. During that entire episode, the immediate family had their eyes glued on me, listening intently to every word. The response was so quiet and possibly my sermon so riveting that the chief mourners had no idea that the father-in-law of one of the daughters was on his way to the hospital and that her husband had gone with him. Everyone else in the church knew what had happened.

I ended the sermon with a prayer for the family and the in-laws, ---
And then I took a deep breath, left the pulpit and went down and spoke briefly with the family. I explained what had happened and suggested that we might have prayers and the commendation and then delay until the daughter had been able to go to the hospital. The family requested and ultimately the entire congregation agreed to complete the service, including the celebration of the Eucharist and the commendation.

The patient had a heart attack but he received care so rapidly that he was not in great danger. The doctor and the son-in-law of the deceased met us at the gravesite. The family expressed their gratitude that I had continued the sermon and allowed them to focus on their grief and mourning.

I was and continue to be fascinated that the doctor, the son, my ushers, the police, and EMT's and I communicated so effectively without saying a word. I have always thought another hand might have been at work that day. And I never knew what I actually preached. We each had a serious job to do that day and our team work was impeccable.

I am sorry that your experience was not so positive. I resonate with standing there as a relatively inexperienced priest and liturgist, not knowing what to do or not do. I do not think you owe anyone an apology. I do think you probably have a whole lot of pastoral care follow-up ahead of you, even if you are fired. I also think your rector owes you some pastoral care. I know you desperately need that!

BUT .....................

While I understand that the pastoral care that you receive needs to affirm your very being, it also needs to challenge you. I have struggled with my temptation to "should on you." Because I suspect you have received a lot of that, some, perhaps, from other priests who have experienced something similar, I, in the end, decided not to do that. Instead I want to raise some questions. Their tone will probably suggest what I think but in the end you need to find your own answers -- and your own questions.

Here are some of my questions.

* Where is God in the midst of your experience?

* What did your liturgical training teach you about pastoral care?

* Has your experience as a curate expanded your understanding of any/all of your seminary education? How?

* What can you say to the stroke victim about God's presence in that moment and in her life?

* What can you say to the congregation about God's presence in the midst of all this?

* Do you work with a spiritual director?

* What responses, other than fear of being fired, can you offer that may strengthen your soul and your priesthood?


What are your questions and your responses?

Be at peace and then at work,

Rev. Maggie

If you have a question about a situation you've been in - recently, or something unresolved from your past - please send it to me before the third Monday of the month. You may leave your questions in the comment section of this blog or email me at e m kaeton at aol dot com. I do try to send the questions to the First Responders by the last Thursday of the month and they return their responses by the first Thursday of the month. Thanks again to all the First Responders . See you next month!

28 comments:

David said...

WOW Elizabeth!

Sorry but WOW is about the only word that comes to mind for the powerful oportunity you have created with First Fridays.

This particular one is such a blessed gift- what incredible responders you have found. A heartfelt thank-you to each on for their insights and the benefit of their respective experiences to this particular situation.

Phillip I hope and pray you will realize what a powerful gift our dear sister Elizabeth has given you in this forum. I'll also be praying you don't give up- either on your rector or your vocation. Phillip you've got my prayers.

As does saint Louie for strength and good health- you are such a living blessing to our Church Dr. Louie.

Thank-you again Elizabeth. I hope you might continue this forum well past Lent.I'd even suggest it could be a valuable addition to Episcopal Cafe as long as it remains under your leadership though.

David@Montreal

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks for stopping by, David. How lucky am I to live and move and have my being - and my ministry - in the Diocese of Newark?

Bill said...

This is like “Déjà vu”. This is exactly what happened in January 2008 in our little church. Granted it was handled differently. An elderly man collapsed in the pew at the 8:00 am Sunday service. I was called over by his son to take a look. A moment later our Rector/Pastor came down from the pulpit and jumped in to provide assistance.

So, what was different between these two events? Part of the reason the respective ages and expertise of the people involved. I am a Red Cross instructor and train hundreds of people annually in CPR and Professional Rescue skills. Our Rector was a professional nurse before becoming a priest. Knowing what to do in an emergency is an important part of responding.

Our curate should not be so hard on him/herself. Trained professionals occasionally freeze. Being young and not being trained are two of the reasons why people don’t react. When we teach these courses, we cover these and other reasons. Some just don’t recognize the seriousness of the event. Others don’t know what to do and are afraid of causing further injury. Some are just afraid.

The way you overcome these obstacles is through training. If you are properly prepared, you are much more likely to respond correctly. It’s much easier to train in a quiet, controlled environment than to think you will automatically know what to do in an emergency.

This is not something they teach in Seminary. The Rector shouldn’t have been so harsh and is not absolved from his part in this drama. Churches attract a large number of elderly to the services. If the Rector was on top of this, he would have prepared for just such an emergency. He would have had a policy in place on just what to do and should have gone over that policy with new staff. When we train pool owners and managers in Lifeguard Management skills, we talk at length about establishing an EAP (Emergency Action Plan). You can’t expect people to do the right thing if you haven’t hammered out the details to begin with. And even then, you schedule in-service training during the year to make sure that your people know exactly what to do.

Let me conclude my reference above to our own incident. After our rector came down from the pulpit, we lifted the unconscious man out of the pew and set him down in the aisle. He was originally unresponsive. He had no discernable breathing or pulse. He was pale and cold. By lifting him out of the pew, his lungs and heart where compressed to the point that when we lowered him to the floor, his eyes opened and he gasped. We called it in to 911 and treated him for shock. When the church started to fill with EMTs and paramedics, we turned it over to the professionals and retired to the altar where we prayed for him and continued with the service. It turns out that he was bleeding internally and by treating him for shock, we saved his life. The point is that this is what can happen when people are trained how to respond. It doesn’t happen by accident.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks, Bill. I confess that when this question came in by private email, I immediately thought of our own situation. I'm willing to bet that this happens more often that any of us realize. Sounds to me like a call for Basic CPR training in seminary and dioceses.

Bill said...

Actually Elizabeth, this prompted a conversation with our program development person. I'm looking into tailoring our existing LifeGuard Management course to handling situations in Churches. When we have it ready we may host a forum at our chapter for the local churches.

David |Dah • veed| said...

OK, now I see that la Madre and Bill have more connection than I realized! Madre, thank you for this inspired ministry!
*****

Young Curate, you have received good advice covering a number of points of view. One thing that you might do is reread your original post sent to Madre Lizabet. I know that you feel attacked by your Rector. And that has surely put you on the defensive. There is a particular "I" problem apparent in your post. You have dug in your heels and now lack a certain humility. That, more than anything else, will be what gets you fired at this point.

I hope that it does not come to that. I hope that you can overcome this competition that you have in your mind between your skill set and that of the rector. A cure should be more on-the-job training, beyond a semester or two of internship usually required to complete an MDiv. However, not all rectors see it that way, or are prepared to actually be the mentor they should be. For some you would be another body to pawn off with the 7:30 am service. I pray for better than that for you.

If it not too late, the only way that you will turn this around is through exhibiting a teachable humility. Even if it involves eating a certain amount of crow.

God bless you in your vocation. Many of us have lost at least one job at some time in life. May this not discourage you unto despair.

Lic. David Austin Allen, ThM
Human Resources Specialist
Monterrey, NL, Mexico

Parroquia de la Sagrada Familia
Diócesis del Norte
Iglesia Anglicana de México

WelcomeToTheSearchForPeace said...

I don't know if it's because we often use two thuribles (no, it's not Smokey Mary's) or that we often receive visitors unused to worship grounded in the rich Anglo-Catholic liturgical and musical tradition but we always have a lot of fainters (and other serious emergencies besides) in our parish. The blessed thing is one is never far from the side of a few cardiologists, two EMTs, three or four private critical care nurses, a handful of medical doctors and a bevy of God’s helping hands. Over and again the first thing the person says is, I RUINED THE LITURGY ! to which we reassure him or her that everything went on smoothly and no disruption was noticed. I think there is a calm which descends over the person that he or she has not disturbed the work of the priest and all has gone on without incident. I couldn’t think of anything worse than, in the middle of my distress, the entire Eucharist coming to a halt so that the priest, whose only skill might only be to pray over me, would cease The Holiest Prayer to draw attention to my need. I don’t know, not ever having been in that position. I just can’t thank you enough, Mother, for this WONDERFUL community-building experience. Love and peace to you and all, as always.

Muthah+ said...

Yep, it does happen. I have had it happen more than once. The first time was at an early service when there were few folks there and I was the only professional there. We stopped the service and called the EMTS and after they left continued the service.

The other one was a parishioner who I knew would be mortified if I stopped the service. She had another parishioner, a professional, assisting her to the narthex where EMTs were called. I went to the hospital immediately after the service.

A couple of your respondants were a bit harsh, but the issue is not about anglo-catholic prissiness or hard-heartedness. The issue is the relationship between the rector and the curate. And I agree with the respondant that said that the curate was getting used by the factions in the parish.

Humility has to be at the heart of our ministry--no matter where or when it is. I doubt if anyone could have told me that in my youth, but Phillip will be a better priest if he can hear it.

The only place where I would willing to make a caveat about the leadership of the rector--and that is in the ministry of preaching. We are all called to be prophets and in preaching we are given the voice by God. We cannot dilute the Gospel.

Phillip hasn't found out yet that the liturgy is not the main thing about his ministry. His priesthood is about relationship with the people he has been called to serve just as faith is about our relationship with God.

Live and learn, dear Phillip. We all stumble in trying to do the right thing. Get used to the criticism! Priests are always criticized. Just try to live the best you can--apologize when it seems to heal problems and reach out in the loving name of Christ.

Göran Koch-Swahne said...

I seems to me we should be most thankfull that there were professionals on the spot so quickly to handle this!

But it also seems to me that there should have been some preparedness, and before the fact.

As someone said, many people in a church on Sunday are quite old and anything can always happen - not least after 50 years of age...

I do hope Phillip and his rector learn from this near fatality.

the Webmaster said...

Interesting story. Our Deacon was processing to read the Gospel and miss judged a step from the altar area to the floor of the Sanctuary at the crossing. She fell right behind me, as I was carrying to Gospel book for her. She went down and within seconds we had a Nurse and EMT at her side, with other "helpers" very close.

As is our custom, 1/2 of a block from a fire house, halted the proceedings, responded with prayer for our Deacon, those helping her, and in the case of fire, for the emergency responders and for those being responded to.

Our Deacon recovered and insisted on continuing reading of the Good News.

The only exception to halting of the proceedings is during the Great Thanksgiving.

So, we have a lot of practice as to what to do, Pray for all.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Bill, what a wonderful idea. Thanks so much.

To all the rest of y'all, thanks so much for your comments. I hope Phillip comes by to read them all.

And, if you have a situation you'd like to submit - Anonymously, of course - something either present or something that you are still trying to work out, and think it would help the community, make sure to send it to me privately at e m kaeton at aol dot com and I'll send it off next month to the "First Responders."

Allie said...

This a rather quick response, but I again can only say what happened to a service that I attended recently. It was at an Easter Vigil where the service is run with great theatrics and the grandfather of one of the babies to be baptized passed out (along with some other not so nice reactions). The priests - both of whom are over 50 (one a bit older than that) continued with the service, for which everyone was grateful. They knew that they were not medics, and that the responsible ushers would be handling this and calling 911. Everyone ESPECIALLY the family was extremely grateful that the service continued as it did and that as little attention was drawn to the matter as possible, especially since those involved seemed a bit embarrassed.

I would thank this curate for not embarrassing me, if he was sure medics had been called.

As for his characterization of his rector, I am not a priest, but I did once have a boss who was psychotic. She was older than me, but I am a better researcher. I simply can find more thorough information faster.

People did prefer to work with me because I didn't belittle them and would get them the information they needed without making them wait or putting them through theatrics. That doesn't make me naieve for this characterization since many people told me this was why they were asking me, and making sure I wouldn't tell my boss.

Perhaps this curate is being unfair (at the very least he is a bit cocky), I would not discount that, but I do think the possibility that he is not needs to be taken, and that some of the reactions seemed a bit knee-jerk and hurtful. The rest seemed full of love, and thank you all for your thoughtfulness.

it's margaret said...

Elizabeth --Phillip, I served at a large church in a resort town --and unfortunately, this happened fairly frequently.

We had a protocol. The presider would stop--move away from what they were doing, ask for a doctor in the house, if necessary staff would know to go call 911, and then the presider would ask for prayers for the person, and lead the congregation in silent prayer from the chancel stairs.

Assisting clergy knew either to go to the doors to wait for and then bring the EMTs to the right place in the church, or to go to the pew and lay hands on the person and pray....

It rarely took more than 5 minutes for the EMTs to get there, so the praying became part of the liturgy. To conclude, the Presider would then also pray for the EMTs and the doctors and then go back to where we were in the liturgy.

One of the clergy would follow the ambulance to the hospital, contact family and be present to the persons' needs.

In 2-1/2 years this happened six times. There were only three clergy--3,000 parishioners. But it worked.

When I was the only clergy present, as happened frequently during the summer, we still followed the same protocol, with staff help.

Now, as a rector of a congregation with an average Sunday attendance of 140--the protocol would remain the same, persons responsible would change....

Just food for thought.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Well, Allie, there are so very many aspects of this situation to comment on - the generational one would certainly appeal most to you - but I really don't see that as the primary issue. The primary one, at least as I see it, is a question of priorities in a situation of public worship where someone's life may be in danger. Every situation is different, depending on who is in the church at the time. Whether or not it is a baptism, funeral, 7:30 Sunday service, etc., also comes into play. But the basics of safety and 'first response' needs to be address and thought out ahead of time. Margaret's comments are very helpful in that way.

genie said...

Reminds me of Bp Cronebergers consecration when Bp Spong collapsed. If I remember a mighty fine Pediatricin and myself were the first to respond. I think you later stated that you did not know that I could move so fast :) I jumped over bleachers if I remember correctly. Then the service was suspended until we all knew that the Bishop was ok. After the ambulance left, Bp Croneberger led us in prayer and we continued. It felt right to stop, pray and care for esch other. Isn't that what we are about?

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

OMG, Genie, is that YOU? You figured out how to post? I'm so proud of you. Well done.

I had forgotten about that incident. Yes, it was right after the consecration and just as the elements were being distributed.

I can still remember the incredible hush that fell over the room - if it's possible to "hear" a "hush" "fall". There was no choice but for everyone and everything to come to a complete stop until +JSS responded. I can still see you and the Doc bounding over bleachers and people to get to the stage/altar.

It really is about when and where it all happens, isn't it? And, about being prepared - well, as prepared as you can be for the unexpected.

Paul Davison said...

Years ago (1974!) we were at my grandmother's Methodist church when she had a heart attack during the sermon. Recognizing the imperfections of memory across 35 years especially when mixed with emotions, I can still vividly see the minister standing at the pulpit, seemingly upset that this had interrupted him. I don't remember him taking any action to help. The ushers opened the doors in the back for the EMTs to come in, but I remember nothing else to show concern about a long time member of their church.

I wouldn't try to judge what was in Philip's heart that day. But, if it were me, I hope I would see that nothing is more important than taking care of these people entrusted to you. I hope I would remember looking through the eyes of a college student watching his grandmother suffering and thinking her minister didn't care. As much as I love the liturgy, I could figure out how to pick it back up when the crisis was dealt with.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

No, Paul. I don't think it's about judging Phillip or what's in his heart. His transparency - intended or not - gave us a real gift in terms of an opportunity to discuss this situation from many different aspects. I think this is why it's important to retain anonymity of the person asking the question but not of the "First Responders." I am so deeply grateful to both Phillip for asking the question and my friends for their response as well as all of you who are leaving comments. This is a very rich discussion.

MarkBrunson said...

It is very difficult to second-guess anyone in such a stressful situation. He may well have been in the way, as most untrained people are in a scene such as he describes. He is young, and confusion and inexperience are diseases of youth (aside to Phillip: as are the tendencies to believe one is envied because of imagined greater insight and energy! :))

What I find distressing is some of the incredibly un-pastoral responses from those telling the young curate how to be pastoral. Yes, he is a professional - but in a very imprecise profession! He is also young, and also has come to you to offer pastoral guidance. Would you speak so harshly to a layperson, a congregant, who came to you for guidance? Priests are people with feelings as well. Of course he's trying to justify himself - just as we all - including the first responders - when we do the best we can. I, frankly, found the finger-shaking, furious tone of some of the "help" to be as appalling as they regarded his actions!

Phillip, I would say, should apologize. Right or wrong doesn't matter as much as relations. Apologize publicly - the incident was public - at another service and in a parish bulletin, if you can. Use it, perhaps, as a point of reflection, as your homiletic skill seems admirable. If the rector is trying to get at you, such humility will heap hot coals upon his head. If not, then, at very least, you will have learned the lesson of humility - which, from your own words, you need - and will have restored the trust and understanding of the parishioners.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Hey, Mark, glad you stopped by. Your comments inspire me to comment. Regarding the nature of "pastoral," well, since when has that meant "being as sweet and warm as mother's milk"? Jesus did his fair share of "rebuking" a few of his disciples, didn't he? I think that, sometimes, a good rebuking is the best pastoral care. And, you know, I think if more of the laity kept more of the ordained accountable, we'd have a healthier, stronger church.

Let's also remember that when someone asks, "What should I do?" or "What do you think?" whatever they get in return is what they asked for. Judgment? That word is spoken like it's a bad thing. It isn't necessarily. It's clearly not when it's in response for a request.

Phillip's story allows many of us to see ourselves at different times in our lives and in different situations. We're all doing a wee bit of projection on him and each other, based on the angle of our own perspective.

In my experience, this is how we learn. Someone wrote offline that this is an ancient Rabbinical method of teaching and learning. Sometimes we call it "case study".

This is only my second try with this experiment. I think it's at least worth a couple more installments, if my "First Responders" don't feel overloaded, and if some of ya'll will risk telling your secret situations.

Be well.

Kirkepiscatoid said...

I waited a little while to respond to this one, because I had to get through my initial response of, "You sanctimonius little @#$%!"

I think what disturbs me the most is that Young Curate has bought too much of the vowel "I".

I'll break this down in two parts:

1. The medical problem. As a person who HAS had to do CPR in the strangest places, frankly, other than maybe other than a slight stoppage of the service to see if she was okay, and to wing it a little by offering prayers for her and the first responders when he returned to the front, he needed to stay out of the way and let the first responders respond.

IMO, his only learning point there was to have briefly stopped the service and winged some extra prayers upon his return to the liturgy. If the scene was in the way of people taking Communion, maybe a brief instruction on "which way to come up front", or even bring it TO the rest.

2. Now we get to the hard part. Even in the first paragraph, the "I" problem comes out. He sort of alludes this woman is a hypochondriac and I'm betting he thought she was just "carryin' on," as we say in these parts.

Then we get to the discussion of the rector, which I lump into the age-old saga of "Young turks vs. old farts." Young Curate, we ALL start out being Young Turks. God willing, we will grow into Old Farts. But Old Farts know more than you think from that gray hair. I am definitely an AOF (Apprentice Old Fart) at this stage of my life. I carry scars. But we have learned to carry on and succeed in ways that are not as apparent.

Young Turks are full of energy to change the world, God Bless 'em. But there is a place where Young Turks have to learn if they don't plan on being Don Quixote, tilting alone at windmills, they try to temper their energy with wisdom. There is a place where you need to morph from where you stop comparing yourself as "the popular kid" (Kirke rolls eyes at the "they love me better" delusion) and grow your heart. They do not teach this in seminary nor medical school, and it's painful as hell.

Personally, I don't care if you stumble through the liturgy or you stutter in the pulpit. What comes out of your heart in those moments? My priest has a college town congregation where 85% of us have either a Ph.D., a D.O., or an M.D. He writes beautiful poetic sermons, but on sheer homiletics, I'm sure the Ph.D.'s in religion and philosophy could run rings around him. One of them is one of his ACOLYTES. The person with the religious "smarts" serves HIM. Think about that one.

Young Curate, you may well be in a world of doo-doo on this one, or maybe not. Either way, I hope you DO figure out who you need to apologize to you, and I hope you come to multiple fronts of reconciliation. You have gotten a LOT of excellent advice from Elizabeth's panel and it may not seem like it all fits, because at first glance it seems divergent, but read them all and see the common theme.

God bless you, you Young Turk. May you grow into a fine Old Fart!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks so much, Kirke, for your fine words and observations. Makes me think that perhaps I should also have a panel from my wise friends in cyberspace. You would be one of the first I ask.

Jim said...

Hi Rev. Elizabeth,

A pair of thoughts:

We had a person collapse in a mass not long ago. We were able to use it as a learning experience. The gentleman was tended by ushers, the priest who did indeed stop the liturgy, EMT's and is fine.

But now, we have a manual, ushers and clergy review it from time to time, and we have a portable defibulator. These are cheap by the way, not having one is a mistake. Training comes with and the Red Cross, Boy and Girl Scouts and others can help with first aid training for ushers.

Second, thought. If I were making decisions, that curate would indeed be looking for work. Any new ordained person gets a month of arrogance -- it takes that long to get over the experience IME. But a year?

Even if it is nothing but the prayerbook prayers for healing while holding someone's hand, we are a community and a priest is supposed to be a community leader.

FWIW
jimB

Karen said...

I was not going to say anything. I have read your blog for some time, but have just lurked in the shadows. But after spending the morning at a workshop addressing why the church is losing people under 40 (if you haven't read Tribal Church by Carol Howard Merritt you should)I have to agree with Allie--the generational aspect of this is significant. You think not? Reread the question, only have the senior pastor be the one who continued the service and his young associate be the one who leveled the critique. Are you sure you would have had the same response to the comments about gossip? I suspect not.

At 55 I am older than Phillip and younger than some of the responders. As a life-long active church member I have seen a few emergencies during service or church events. As a health care professional I have responded as needed. In my experience the overwhelming response of those who have become ill in public is to not want to be a specticle. I have even known people who went to extreme lenghts to not let anyone know they were becoming ill in church because they so did not want to be the focus of attention. I think it is important that our response to these incidents focus on the needs of the person who has become ill and not the needs of the others present to "do something".

That said, I too thank you for this series and everything you write. Checking your posts has become a valued and enjoyable part of my routine.

Karen

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Karen, I don't think I said that the generational issue wasn't important. I just thought it wasn't the primary issue. That doesn't mean that it's not significant. It's just not primary - at least not to me. Then again, we all see the primary issue through our own lens. Generational stuff is very important to some, like Allie. Safety issues are very important to me, but so is where we are and what we are doing in the liturgy. Someone else would - and has - seen the primary issue as the dynamic between the rector and the curate.

This is one of the reasons I chose this situation - I knew it wouldn't fail to hit several topics all at once. And, in this neighborhood, there is never a want for diversity of opinion - strong opinion - and sometimes several from the same person.

Thanks for stopping by, Karen, and venturing to speak. We may disagree, but I believe that it is lively discussion that keeps people coming back - even after they might have gotten their toes stepped on.

MarkBrunson said...

Regarding the nature of "pastoral," well, since when has that meant "being as sweet and warm as mother's milk"? Jesus did his fair share of "rebuking" a few of his disciples, didn't he?

Interesting you should mention mother's milk. I would often, as an adolescent, use the same argument of Jesus' rebukes for my harshness to others. My mother would then say, "Yes. But you aren't Jesus."

Pastoral means pastoral, which is to tend to the needs of the one being pastored. What I am seeing is a great deal of outrage and derision that some young punk would dare challenge age and wisdom. It's just as knee-jerk as the young curate's response. I doubt the harsh responses helped such a fragile, self-absorbed ego, frankly. Harshness works for those who are willing to face directly. This young curate seems too immature, yet. It will have hardened his own defensiveness and improved nothing.

"Tough Love" is, in my experience, a poor technique.

Let's also remember that when someone asks, "What should I do?" or "What do you think?" whatever they get in return is what they asked for.

I do hope none of us gets what we asked for! Especially, in terms of Judgment, don't you?

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks for stopping by again, Mark. We can agree to disagree about pastoral care and 'tough love'. My experience are just different from yours, is all. In some ways, it's all projection. The strongest dynamic I've ever encountered in parish ministry is "transference / counter transference". I wish I had known about it sooner.

Anyway, I'm just delighted this column has inspired so many conversations about so many aspects of parish ministry

Lindy said...

Well, I don't know anything about any of that. But, I'll tell you this, I always do better when I make my boss look good. It seems doubtful to me that the young curate will make much progress until he can get that part down. I'd fire him, I'll tell you that.