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Dealing with Church People

DISCLAIMER
Every church and each person’s experience with the church is different. If I offended you in anyway, I apologize. These are my personal reflections on our own experiences dealing with my grandma’s congregation. Don’t read me all wrong–I love churches. Churches are a vital part of our communities. Centers that provide critical and desperately needed supports and services that are often unavailable or inaccessible. Churches connect people in a way that is not possible anywhere else. I do not in any way want to turn anyone off from going to church or discourage people from connecting with faith communities.

 

If faith is important to you, it is only natural in times of trouble to want to lean on the church. Let me tell one thing I’ve learned supporting my grandma to participate in her faith community: There is a right way and a wrong way to lean on the church.

Here are some practical tips for dealing with church people that I have learned on my journey with Grandma.

DO DON’T
Put all of your faith in God.

The only One who can truly make a way and provide for all of your needs is God.

Put all of your faith in the church.

My grandma used to call the church office frequently. Partly because she was lonely and believed that she could get comfort from the church. She was crying out for help, Talk to me! Come visit me! I’m shut in!

Partly because she really did she need help. When she first got home and started falling (before the Medical Alert), she would call the church to send someone to pick her up.

My grandma knows that my job is very important to me. She convinced herself that she shouldn’t call me or bother me while I was at work (when I asked she not call me excessively and start writing things down. Quite frankly I don’t think she realized just exactly how much she was calling me).

Grandma put all of her faith in them and they have failed us. Nobody comes to check on her. Nobody calls her.

It is better to not set yourself up for disappointment by convincing yourself that 1) it is the church’s responsibility to take care of you and 2) the church can solve all of your problems.

Lean on individual members.

For me, this meant I had to get to know the people my grandma cared about from church and those who cared about her. I had to have conversations with her and, despite my discomfort, talk to people I didn’t really know.

The diamonds in the rough will reveal themselves to you as time goes on and you will learn just who exactly you can lean on. They are the people that go out of their way to say hello when they see you at church, who visit your loved one when they are in the hospital or rehab, and call and check on them.

Lean on the church leadership

Church leaders are busy. They do not have the time and attention to get wrapped up in the drama of your daily lives.

Besides the disappointment you will feel when you put all of your faith in the church, there are more practical reasons for not leaning on the church itself.

  1. Boundaries: The people employed by the church are just that – they are doing their jobs. They are running non profit organizations that often provide desperately needed services to their communities. We have to respect their time and not disturb their important work with our our everyday troubles.
  2. Saving Face: There’s another reason why it’s important not to constantly send SOSes to the church. I don’t know how to put this nicely, so I’m just going to come out and say it– if your loved one constantly calls them, eventually they will believe that you are not doing a good job as a caregiver and you risk someone hotlining you. I had to come to this realization and the fact that the power to keep my grandma at home and honoring her wishes could be taken out of my hands if outside parties get too involved in our personal drama.
  3. Safety for all involved: Chances are very low that the people the church might send over to your loved one’s house to pick them up when they fall are not trained to do so properly. That puts both your family member, as well as the rescuer, at risk for becoming injured. Sadly, I was the one who pointed this out to them when they finally told me she had been calling them to pick her up off the floor. The church staff accepted this reality that I pointed out to them and made it their policy for our own family. I discovered this after asking a dear friend who volunteers for the church one morning after she called me as soon as i walked in my office door, needing help to get off the floor. My friend shared that they told everyone not to go pick her up because they could get hurt.
    I found out that they recently sent someone to help another member of the church and the person who fell ended up with broken ribs. What I learned from this is you can’t expect them to react the same to each situation and treat everyone equally.

 

Resolve your disagreements with the people at church who piss you off (either internally or directly with them) so you can enjoy worship with your loved one.

If someone at church says or does something that really makes you mad, and you let that comment or action continue to bother you, you are not only disregarding our commandment to forgive others, but you are also ruining the experience for yourself.

I cannot tell you how many months I sat glaring at the back of a certain person’s head and thinking angry thoughts about this person. This kind of stanky attitude will block you from hearing what God has to say to you. It also allows bitterness and anger to fester in your soul, and it ruins the whole experience of going to church. You could become so distracted that you fall away from the whole point of church – to praise and thank God and renew your spirit.

It’s better just to chalk it up to ignorance and move on.

 

Get mad at the whole church because one or two people are completely ignorant.

Unfortunately, despite the fact that many churches provide invaluable community services, like low income ministries, affordable child care, food pantries and soup kitchens, shelters, counseling, after schools activities…. Church staff don’t necessarily always follow the best practices of the nonprofit field.

When the pastor for the seniors at the church was bold enough to put in writing (twice!), claiming to speak on behalf of the whole church, that he felt she should be moved into a nursing home after I asked for help connecting me to people who could , I was very upset. How could someone with such a great responsibility, to minister to those who should be our most valued citizens, be insensitive? I wondered if he got a commission from the local senior living facilities. I stewed for months and months. How was he going to feel years down the road when his kids wanted to do the same to him?

A man much older and wiser than me should have realized that I was only reaching out to them because I saw them as the gatekeepers to the members of their church. At the time, I didn’t know anyone at the church, least of which who my grandma interacted with and who cared for her(and she doesn’t remember most of them after everything that has happened).

More importantly, I didn’t know how to ask for help from the church. It is okay to ask for prayer requests, but think twice before reaching out for too much more than that from the people who work in the church office.

Just because a person is part of the church leadership and claim to serve the Omniscient One, doesn’t mean they are all knowing. For one, they are too busy dealing with the affairs of the church as well as everyone else in the congregation to get close enough to you to truly get a good picture of what is going on.

Don’t expect them to always know what is the right thing to do. People can only respond to situations based on their personal frame of reference and they are making decisions and statements blindly. If they do not have experience or invested time in learning the best practices of supporting aging individuals and their families, they are not capable of advising you on any aspect of your caregiving situation.

Despite the fact that my grandma was constantly disrupting the church office with her phone calls, they never once thought to notify me, her primary caregiver, that she was calling them to help her when she fell so that I might know what was going on. I was completely in the dark. It wasn’t until the light at the end of the tunnel, after all of her medical issues, that someone bothered to tell me she had been calling them.  I guess they just assumed that I knew, even though she explicitly asked many of them not to tell me.

You can’t get mad at the church for these kinds of situations. You have to forgive them and move on with your life, otherwise you will dread going to church and potentially deprive your loved one from a meaningful experience. And let’s face it: when you get older and are dealing with chronic health issues and the end of the road, there aren’t too many of those to look forward to.

Instead, it’s your duty to either educate them on what is right or demonstrate Godly behavior. I do not think that Jesus would leave my grandma on the floor when she falls. I also don’t think he would abandon her to a convalescent home. So I have taken it upon myself to communicate the essential facts to key people who need to know them and model for them what I believe God would have me do.

Cleanse your soul at church.

The primary purpose of going to church is to worship the Father.

I cannot tell you how much better I feel after church service on Sundays, and how out of whack I feel when I don’t go.

If nothing else, just clear your mind and enjoy the music and the message and savor the fact that you have an hour or two where you literally have nothing to do but be still.

Take the time you spend at church to reflect inward and give all of your burdens to Him.

 

Air your dirty laundry at church.

My grandma was always a very private person. We had a lot of dirty laundry, believe me, but she never talked about it publicly. SInce she has been losing her memory, as well as many close personal relationships, I think this practice and the judgement to carry it out is waning. That’s okay – I inherited. I hate having other people in my business. It is better to keep your personal family business within your family.

However, when I first started dealing with her church and was desperate for help, I was constantly sharing our struggles with the people I knew there. At first, I thought I wanted the people at Grandma’s church to have a very detailed picture of my reality. Maybe if they really knew what all I had to deal with, they might be more motivated to help us. Maybe if more of them knew, they’d send help! I learned very quickly that I had the wrong impression.

I have learned that they actually seem to respect me more now that they don’t know just exactly what is going on. And since I’ve realized just exactly who I can lean on, I know just where to send my supplications!

 

Have you had a revelation about dealing with church people not listed here? Or have you had similar experiences?  Please share your trials and tribulations in the comments! I’d love to hear your story.