It’s been a couple of months since I’ve talked about how things are going at my congregation.  Given some stuff happening this weekend, I thought that this might be a good time for another update.  As always, this is very much an update from my perspective.  Probably much of what I interpret as the congregation’s experience is really just me projecting my own reactions.

(For anyone who doesn’t know the story that I’m telling here, I invite you to read the blog posts filed under ‘Kipcor‘.  You’ll get the idea.)

So – the facilitators from Kipcor (Robert and Kirsten) visited with us twice last year.  The first time, they gave us some guidance and encouragement about storytelling: how to tell stories, how to listen, how to be sensitive to the multitude of perspectives.  After that, they spent a significant portion of time gathering the congregation’s stories, trying to establish a coherent picture of what conspired to result in such a disastrous meeting on Pentecost Sunday.  Finally, they visited with us again to try to give us some idea of the big picture.  I think that many people really appreciated that second meeting, either because they began to see the big picture for the first time, or because they felt like their story was finally being heard.

Since then, the congregation decided to continue working with Robert and Kirsten during the next phase of this reconciliation work.  Beginning with their visit this weekend, we will be telling our stories to each other, naming the places where we need healing, and (hopefully) doing the real hard work of forgiving and reconciling.

As part of this story telling, I will be part of a story circle tomorrow (Saturday).  This is a small group of people who will gather to share and listen in a very intense way.  We have been asked to consider two questions:

Describe from your perspective the central behaviors or events in the recent difficulties which caused hurt, frustration, or conflict for you.

What do you need to help you begin to heal, let go of negative feelings, and move forward?

For the longest time, I’ve had trouble articulating the hurt and frustration that I’ve felt.  My emotions often caught me off guard and were most raw during worship and during meetings with Robert and Kirsten.  I have expressed this in my blog once before: how, in theory, I really wanted to be a part of these meetings and to work at reconciliation.  I think this is vitally important.  Yet, when the meetings occurred, I just couldn’t bring myself to be a part of them.  Emotionally, I was sick.

Recently, I think I was able to pull my story together in a way that I could begin to understand it and share it in a way that is clear to others (or at least to Ordinary Spouse, who is the only person to hear my story so far, and who had trouble understanding before).  It goes like this…

On one hand, my very close friends were no longer in my congregation.  When they finalized their decision to go to a new church, they sent a letter explaining  their decision.  In it, they thanked four friends for walking with them.  Of those four, I was the only one present on the Sunday that Robert and Kirsten shared “the big picture”.  Another one of the four was out of town, but two others had chosen to leave permanently.  In any case, the result for me was a feeling of great loss mixed with loneliness and isolation.

On the other hand, I’ve been very committed to my congregation.  Ordinary Spouse and I discussed this commitment long before the trouble began.  We view our membership like a covenant, and in that way it is much like a marriage bond.  Because we value it so highly, we also want to encourage the whole group in working toward healing, and to help with that whenever possible.

On top of these two competing influences, there was “the big picture”.  I haven’t tried to describe it before, and I’m not going to try now, either.  Suffice to say, we had a perfect storm of sorts, with many different stories converging at once.  Most of the congregation was unaware of all of the stories, but when Kirsten and Robert shared them during their second visit, I didn’t learn anything new.

So – these three things (the loss and loneliness, the longing for healing for the congregation as a whole, and the weight of holding all of the stories) combined to cause the cauldron of emotions that I couldn’t articulate.  When I finally put all of this together the other night with Ordinary Spouse, I described feeling as if I were being torn in many directions at once.  Just getting to that description was in some ways very healing.

From there, I can consider the second question.  What do I need in order to move forward?

Two things have come to mind.  First, I just want the moving-forward process to begin.  I spent last summer and fall taking care of the personal processing that needed to happen and mending a strained relationship.  And when I look forward, I see a long climb ahead.  I’m anxious to get started.

The second thing is that I need to be respected.  I don’t need people to agree with me – just  understand that I’m trying to act with integrity.

So often, when this conflict comes up in the broader Church, I hear one group of people claim to be Bible-believing.  If we could just study the Bible (they say), we’d come to a sound decision.  The implication is that some other group (the group that I’m now a part of) isn’t Bible-believing.  I have never been addressed personally, but I’ve been guilty by association.  And it’s incredibly hurtful.  If I can’t be respected, then we can no longer be a community – not because I’m leaving, but because I’ve already been pushed out.

Anyway – that’s what I hope to be able to share tomorrow.  I hope that I’m heard, and I hope that I am able to hear the others in the circle, as well.  It will be a tough few hours, but by God’s grace they’ll also be a healing time.