Friday, 18 January 2019

A Poisoned Chalice

Back in the very early years of this new century I was persuaded to accept the post of Moderator of my regional Baptist Association.  This meant I kept the day job of local church minister, but in my ‘spare time’ chaired the Association’s Board of Trustees, the Council Meetings and became ‘line manager’ to the Regional Ministers.  I was full of optimism as I took up the post, thinking it would be fascinating to get a broader view of Church life as I got to know the 150 or so churches that made up the Association.

What I hadn’t bargained for was that my tenure of office came immediately after an acrimonious reorganisation.  Various ‘top’ jobs had been re-allocated and not everyone way happy, in fact the ‘fall out’ from that rearrangement of the chairs dominated the Association’s life for the three years I was in post.

Although I wasn’t the architect of the changes, the mere fact that I was the Moderator made me, in the eyes of many, the automatic ‘villain of the piece’!

I regularly sat with my fellow trustees around the board table and encountered amongst them a willingness to listen, calmly reflect and do everything in their power to make the situation better.  Yet, they too were viewed by many as the ‘baddies’. 

I sometimes wrote emails to grieved parties in what I thought was an encouraging tone, only to get back a response accusing me of being aggressive.

I chaired full Council Meetings with over a hundred reps from the churches being present only to hear one speaker after another decry the Association as a bad and uncaring employer.

Throughout this time it seemed to me that so many agendas were running it was hard to know exactly where people were coming from.  I would go to the annual Ministers’ Conference, supposedly for the good of my own soul, only to find after evenings prayers a line of half a dozen colleagues queuing up to see me and share their ‘disgust’ at what was going on.

As the time went by it dawned on me that I was just about the only person who now knew the whole story, as so many people had shared opposing views with me, yet I was not at liberty to disclose to others the confidential information I had from time to time picked up along the way.

It was a mess!  I had been handed a poisoned chalice.  I hadn’t made the mess, but I was charged with clearing it up.

In the end, often because people left the area, the tensions eased, and Association life turned a corner.

It was a deeply disillusioning experience to go through, made bearable because of the sanity and goodwill I encountered Sunday by Sunday in my own congregation.

Does any of that sound familiar?!! 

For me this ‘mess’ occurred in the ecclesiastical world.  It’s happened this week in the political one.  Indeed, it can occur in any micro or macro context.

Dealing with issues like these is the ‘stuff’ of leadership and it can be a lonely and tough call.  So I’m glad the New Testament urges us to pray for those in authority over us.

You don’t have to agree with everything our Prime Minister says to see that over recent months she has kept her cool and filled the office of ‘First Lord of the Treasury’ with exemplary dignity.

She and her colleagues, I believe, deserve our heartfelt prayers at this difficult and challenging times.

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