Two Fish…

My continuing saga of being Parish Visitor (PV) for more than a decade in two churches. Best job I ever had. I have loved older people since I was very young. But this job managed to have me work for 4 horrible bosses in a row. All were ministers. What are the odds? I’m bitter, full of resentment, and know I need to move past my bad feelings towards them. I’d like to forgive them, and hope by writing the story it will be a therapeutic start. This dude, Two Fish (TF) is the hardest one to get past.

Exquisite house of God, but a political cesspool inside…


Deep breath. We were staying under the church’s radar. Not signing attendance sheets because we didn’t want cards or calls. A beautiful church, stately. In a terrible neighborhood. Dying downtown area, and rough. Thugs, drugs, & robberies. Hadn’t always been that way. Fifty years ago the size of the congregation was over 1600 members, and was considered a neighborhood church. As of 2012 weekly attendance hovered around 160. Ten percent of 50 years ago. This was not all the church’s fault or their location, but location was a biggie. I think religion as a whole had taken a big hit in the last 30 years. When I was a kid there were no ifs, ands or buts about going to church. You went to church EVERY Sunday morning. A different world then. Not as many women worked outside the home, so weekends were slower. There were no kids travel basketball, baseball, hockey or soccer leagues. Now moms are trying to squeeze all that, plus what needs to be done in 2 days, while putting in 40-60 hours a week outside the home. Then we played on Saturday while Mom cleaned the house and baked. Almost everyone in my town went to church on Sunday. Sometimes more than once a day.

Soon after joining this church, the preacher, TF sought me out. Asked me to apply for the PV position. I said no. The man currently doing the job was retiring because his wife needed care. TF inquired again. Said I’m not interested, sorry. Couple months later he called me to his office. Asked me to give careful prayer consideration and apply for the job. Ok God, I give up. This was my calling, I knew it. Filled out the application, had an interview with TF and Bob. Bob and his wife were responsible for the endowment that paid for this position. They started it with seed money years earlier after a terrible accident claimed the life of one parent, left the other one in bad shape. That parent had pretty much been forgotten by the church, so the fund was started. Requiring the church to hire a person just to visit folks who no longer attended regularly.

So I was never paid out of Sunday morning collections or pledges. This endowment, now humongous, also paid for any continuing education classes. Many were offered and I took a lot of them, learning all I could about dementia, Alzheimer’s, sundowners, medication issues. Classes on the caregivers, the spouses, relatives, grown children, who no longer went out for lunch, card clubs, the Y, even ignoring their own health by not going to the doctor or dentist because all they had time for was caring for their loved one. This job fit me to a T. Biggest problem I had was finding my way around town. I didn’t know where any of the facilities were, and home addresses were even worse. I hauled a map of the city with me for a year.

Many things were different than the “One Fish” church. (A post a few days ago, aptly titled, One Fish, yeah, I’m clever like that) The building was a city block long. The staff in this church was enormous. Over a dozen people sitting around the table at weekly staff meetings. Granted a couple positions were volunteer, still the church was not that much bigger in congregation size, but the budget was almost 3 times the size of our previous church. This 80 year old building was a pretty demanding mistress and required a lot of money for maintenance and upkeep. Had full time positions for the minister, office manager, choir director/organist, janitor, and chaplain. Part-timers were a couple of bookkeepers, youth director, maintenance man, children’s director, adult Sunday school director, and a cleaning crew from an agency to do odd jobs.

A few months after I was hired, TF fired the children’s director. Calmly walked into staff meeting, with his little catch phrase I would soon learn to detest, “with much prayer and discernment, blah, blah, blah.” The young gal, a member, whose mom had just passed away from an aggressive cancer, had also been a member. At the time, I thought it was really bad timing. He should have waited, or not fired her at all. We only had about a dozen children in the church, half of which tagged along with grandparents or great-grandparents.

Of the 4-lousy-minister-bosses though, TF was the ONLY one that visited my little people and enjoyed it. Often he would call with, “I’m leaving work at 3:30 on Wednesday. Who do you think I should see?” You have no idea how much older folks appreciate getting a surprise visit from the minister. Often made their year. Usually though, I had several on my list who had serious health concerns, upcoming surgeries or facing a move to independent or assisted living. He usually headed to see them.

TF hired a new children’s director out of the blue. We’ll call him Blue Boy, (BB). BB, new in town, had strolled into church one weekday with his wife because they admired the building’s architecture. Huh. After he was hired they moved into the church’s upstairs apartment. That would be part of his job, security at night and weekends. Wasn’t very long though before sparring between the 2 of them was noticeable during staff meetings. TF wanted BB to always base his Sunday children’s message on the scripture for that morning’s sermon. BB did not feel that necessary and did not abide. Then there was a big snafu with a huge outdoor free picnic to be held in our parking lot for anyone who wanted to come. A local celebrity, an elephant had been booked to be the star attraction, but hadn’t been confirmed months before. BB’s responsibility. Elephant would be a no show after we advertised it big time. Fired BB the next week.

Wasn’t easy getting them out of the apartment and BB had a lot of parental support from the church. TF took out a police restraining order on him from entering the building! Then contacted all the surrounding churches warning them about BB. Wow. District higher-ups came down hard of TF, made him rescind those false statements so BB would drop his threatened lawsuit. By now, I was very disillusioned with TF. Thought he had lost his marbles, and told him exactly that during staff meetings. Said he had lost all of his credibility, and to please stop shooting himself in the foot.

TF hired another full time children’s director. Wonderful young woman. Fired her 4 months later-at 10:30 pm while she was house-sitting a friend’s place out in the boonies. Crazy. He was off the reservation. Hauling the then 80 year old woman who was the chair of SPRC (staff parish relations committee). This title was a misnomer anyway. It was TF-parish relations, not staff.

Basically though, my little ministry went unchanged. I got new folks added to my list while sadly, others passed away. My job was kind of a constant. But the church was doing badly. Attendance was down, worse, the money coming in was WAY down. With a $100,000 shortfall looming, some big cuts were going to have to be made. Letter after letter had been sent out to the congregation, (a big turn-off) asking for more, more, more money. Things were dismal. TF announced in staff meeting that everyone was going to take a hit. We each needed to meet with him and the new SPRC Chair (young punk, hand picked by TF of course) in the next 2 days. Thought I’d probably have to take a 3-hour cut each week. But my salary wasn’t paid out of pledges or collection, so I wasn’t worried. Oh boy.

My 15 minute appointment started at 10:15. I walked in and sat down. SPRC guy did not say one word. TF started, “Denise you’re doing a great job, the people of the church love you, those you visit especially love you, but we’re eliminating your position. We’re giving your hours to the chaplain. Take a week to say your good-byes.” No prayers, hugs, certainly no remorse and I walked out the door. It was 10:18. Should have seen this one coming, but I didn’t. TF certainly couldn’t get rid of the chaplain, she made his job much easier, regularly doing sermons and funerals. Stunned and shocked, I sobbed all the way home. John took it harder than I did. Maybe even a tad vindictive. We both knew why I was let go. Criticizing TF-a lot. And I was very vocal about his bizarre behavior. A couple hours after I got home, the music director stopped by. He had heard early that morning what TF had planned for me. Music guy had gone to TF’s office and asked if he really realized what the ramifications would be if he let me go? TF had already decided it was worth it.

When I could think rationally again, the magnitude of what he had really done hit home. The 4-top full time positions at church were told they would be taking a 10% pay cut. TF, office manager, chaplain, and music director. All 4 had spouses who had great jobs. Of the spouses, one was a city employee, one worked for the church at the district level, one as chaplain at a hospital, one was a minister. I earned about $12,000. a year. My hubby, John had bought a small manufacturing plant 10 years before. He had been doing ok until the recession hit, and a huge contract he landed had been reneged. John had bought new equipment for the job, ready for a run-off, now not making any parts. This was about 3 months before my fateful firing. John closed the plant and filed business bankruptcy. If anyone can tell me this was the right Christian thing to do, I’m listening. It was spiteful, ruthless and hateful. Guess I haven’t moved past it yet. Nope.

But that is not the end of the story. Majority of church folks were outraged and demanded a detailed explanation on how letting me go, when my job was not part of the budget dilemma was going to help this church? Meanwhile the couple who started the endowment called and took me out to lunch. They brought the original paperwork of the requirements of the PV job. If the chaplain added my job to hers, she couldn’t be chaplain anymore. Since she took home more than 3 times what I made, that wouldn’t make her very happy. Endowment couple didn’t think TF had the right or grounds to fire me. “Hang in there Denise, this is not over.” Plus they had noticed discrepancies in the parish visitor fund. It was down, way down. They hired outside lawyers to help sort it out.

Usually 30 people show up for these meetings. This one had a hundred-mad-as-hell-folks. Very humbling. TF gave it a good fight. He had listed 7 points for various cuts, my position was one of them. Stressed strongly it was a package deal, all or nothing. Folks disagreed. Motioned and seconded to have my job elimination taken out. Still unclear was the endowment situation. Couldn’t keep paying me my usual rate until the fund again grew to a healthy sum, or soon it would be depleted. TF shouted from the microphone, “well Denise, how do you feel about having your wages cut in half?” JERK. To which I replied, “you had me down to zero, so half is better than nothing!” It was emphasized that we had to start adhering to the guidelines of the endowment. I would no longer be required to attend staff meetings or make the CD’s every week. A waste of my hours since I would be working less. Ok by me, I didn’t want to see him again, let alone be in the same room every week.

A lot of people were unhappy with him since that stunt. He had been there 9 years, 4 too many. Between 2005-2009 he had fired about 8 people. Soon, a petition was circulated to have him moved and signed by many members, yup, including me. Not all loved or supported this gesture either. The church was in a world of hurt. TF was replaced by an interim preacher, whom we were assured by our district superintendent was “trained to heal broken churches.” Oh my. He was HOPELESS. More on him later. I would stay another 5 years and 2-more-lousy-minister-bosses. My cross to bear. Beginning to think maybe they weren’t bad odds. Just a lot of lousy ministers…


2 thoughts on “Two Fish…

  1. Forgiveness isn't about them, it is about us. You don't have to get to a point where you say, \”They didn't hurt me,\” or, \”They aren't evil\” or the like. Forgiveness is getting to a point where you say, \”I'm letting go of the negative impact this is having on me and my life.\” It's about you, and God, and not the other person. The truth is, God is the one who forgives and forgets. As humans, we are called to forgive, but we don't have to (and usually I find it is IMPOSSIBLE to) forget. So, my prayer for you is that you can slowly open your hand that has been holding onto that hot coal, drop it, and allow healing to begin for you. That fish-shaped coal will still be ugly, hot, and capable of great damage. It just won't be able to damage or impact you anymore.


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