Friday, April 20, 2012

Now I'm Confused

Recently my husband and I received an email signed by our pastor at St. Anonymous, announcing the resignation of the Director of Youth. I wanted to cite the entire email here, since this post is about how I found it confusing, but even if I change the person’s name and substituted gender neutral pronouns*, I think there would still be legal and ethical issues with quoting the entire email. So I’ll cite snippets to be as clear as possible about what I find disturbing, and change the name and pronouns in those.

The email starts out by announcing that the employee in question, Comic Sans and the pastor “have been in a discernment process for some time regarding hir position at St. Anonymous.” It continues that zie and the pastor agree it would be better for all if Comic “takes time to pursue additional skills and education needed for hir to follow hir calling in Youth Ministry.” Okay, zie is quitting a job in mid-April to start school, only we aren’t being told which school. The email ends with “I know you join me in thanking Comic for the amazing Spiritual Gifts [capital letters in the original] zie has shared with us, and for hir participation in our family of faith.”

If you don’t know our pastor, you might not find this message unusual. However, while she is preaching, Dr. J is quite colloquial. Her sermons are peppered with expressions like, “I’m just sayin”, “Woohoo!” and “This is not rocket surgery”. While her written messages are a little more formal, she doesn’t regularly use expressions like “have been in a discernment process.” This announcement looks like it has been carefully crafted with the help of someone else. Someone is leaving a job; why is careful crafting of the announcement even necessary?

On the face of it, the announcement could cover at least three situations:

1) A popular youth leader who took on the job with the minimum amount of training but great interest and dedication realizes that to do the youth ministry work zie wants, zie needs more training. I think that is what we are supposed to read into this. The problem I see is, that the timing is odd. Normally one would not quit a job to go back to school until school is ready to start. Even if zie were attending summer session, one would expect an announcement more along the lines of, “Comic Sans is resigning hir position as Director of Youth to begin working on hir master’s degree at Happy Happy Joy Bible College beginning this June. Zie and I have prayed over this and are sure this is the direction God wants hir to take in life. I’m sure you’ll join me in offering Comic our best wishes.”

2) St. Anonymous has decided that it needs to upgrade from having a Director of Youth to having a Youth Pastor with the appropriate degree and training. The current incumbent does not qualify at present, and the church cannot afford to hold the job open for hir while zie attends school, but everyone agrees that going back to school is a good career move for hir. If this were the case, however, the church would have been notified of such a meeting and decision by the Administrative Board.

3) Or it could cover a situation in which the employee had personality conflicts with one of more of the youth, one or more parents of youth, or someone in administration. Those last two categories are not mutually exclusive. The announcement as written seems to be designed to cover this third scenario, while implying the possibility of the first one. If there is a conflict, or even dereliction of duty, I can understand the board taking the view that it isn’t everyone’s business.

But then why send this email at all? Why not just make the announcement that Comic Sans is leaving us after X years of service and we all wish hir well. The parents and youth probably already know the real reason and the fact that Comic is leaving is all the rest of us need to know. It’s not rocket surgery.

This looks like the kind of announcement you make when you feel like some sort of explanation has to be given, but such a non-explanation explanation always makes me think the worst (and not necessarily of the employee). It seems to me that the congregation either needs all the facts or else just the barebones “Comic is leaving us”. My experience is, anything else just leads to the gossip the church is no doubt hoping to quash.

I’m just sayin’, is all.

*So I’m using “zie” for third person singular, nominative case and “hir” for third person singular, objective case.

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