Post Traumatic Church Disorder - PTCD

2

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  • HuiaHuia Shipmate
    I don't always believe that God exists, But I always believe God is Love. That seems to be an unshakeable part of me.

    Hi LatchKeyKid, good to see you again.

    The sentence I've quoted sums up my position much more clearly than I have ever been able to. Thanks.
  • Schroedingers CatSchroedingers Cat Shipmate, Waving not Drowning Host
    The existence of God has never been in doubt in my mind (not for a long time). Whether he is good and loving has been questioned. But more, whether I exist is more of a challenge to me.

    Perversely.
  • Huia wrote: »
    Adeodatus I remember you posting about some of the things that were happening to you in the church, and feeling angry. I'm glad you have left such a toxic place.

    Thank you, Huia. It wasn't meant to be like this. In my mind, church was going to be, if nothing else, important social support for me as I got older and had less support elsewhere. That idea's gone out the window as I can hardly bear to set foot in a church now, and certainly not when there's worship happening.
  • APWAPW Shipmate
    It's 15 years since I last attended a church as a member of a congregation. Like Adeodatus I was angry as hell and wanted to hurt the powers that be as much as they had hurt me.

    I would say it took a good 10 years for me to manage going into a church at all, and that was for a funeral I couldn't possibly miss. Even then I could feel myself panicking (not helped by the celebrant being the minister of my old congregation). I can go to a service now, provided I tell myself "it will be over in an hour and I can do anything for an hour." Fortunately, I don't have occasion to do so for more than funerals and weddings, and I know most of the people there so there's always people to hang out with.

    Admittedly, my church situation involved some pretty dire homophobia directed at me over a period of 20 or so years. The church is the only place I've ever experienced homophobia, and in the end, I left without a single qualm. One day I was a full on member, the next, I wasn't. Best decision I ever made.

    I garden. I provide and enjoy hospitality. I mix with my community at work and at leisure. These things provide me with reflection, communion, and community, without the bloody and dangerous church power structure killing me.
  • BoogieBoogie Shipmate
    edited November 2018
    @APW said
    I garden. I provide and enjoy hospitality. I mix with my community at work and at leisure. These things provide me with reflection, communion, and community, without the bloody and dangerous church power structure killing me.

    Sounds excellent to me.

    My problems at Church are tiny compared to homophobia but I’m beginning to think I’d be better off out of it.

    But I’m not sure how to leave.

    I have many very good friends there. My problem is with the minister, who treats me as staff. I don’t want to give any more of my time to her but would be putting the work on to others if I backed out.

    I can’t decide whether to wait her out (Methodist ministers always move on - she may have another 3 or 5 years here) or leave.
  • APWAPW Shipmate
    I thought I had many good friends, but you know something, they disappeared when I left. Part of this was due to the minister telling people I didn't want to hear from anyone (definitely an alternative fact), but not one person out of a congregation in which I had been a very active part contacted me to check I was OK. I discovered the alternative fact a year later, when I saw old friends and went over to say hallo - one of them said, "Oh, are we allowed to talk to you now?"

    It only reinforced for me how toxic things had been for me in the church.
  • PigletPiglet All Saints Host, Circus Host
    That's frightful, APW - as if hounding you out of the church wasn't bad enough, perpetrating a lie like that to alienate you from your friends!

    It's not Christianity as I know it.
  • @APW I'm so sorry you had to go through such a terrible experience. What makes it all the more infuriating is that it only takes one or two people to speak up to make a significant difference. Or to give ongoing support and friendship. They didn't deserve you.
  • Curiosity killedCuriosity killed Shipmate, 8th Day Host
    I had a similar experience of being dropped by lots of people when I wandered away for a break from church after doing too much and burning out. That break is still ongoing, 7 years later.

    But I never felt accepted in that church - as a single parent with a child not attending at that stage, I wasn't a nice family package with children to be encouraged. And as a still working single woman I wasn't included in any of the cosy couples social scenes. If I did certain things I was being accused of chasing someone, much married. From my point of view, it felt as if he was hitting on me, which wasn't anything I wanted to encourage and constrained my movements and involvement considerably.
  • APW's post has set me thinking; when a very much involved couple left my former church the vicar announced that they didn't want any further contact. Now I wonder if that was really true, and whether the same thing happened when we left three or four years later, as we heard nothing from former friends at church (apart from one woman who was a colleague of my husband and one who invited us for a Christmas drink).

    But even if the vicar didn't offer the congregation an alternative fact in our case, I can't really blame people; they may have felt awkward about approaching us without knowing why we'd left. And I think that being in a toxic church is quite a disabling experience - when I look back I wonder why I didn't protest about various things, well before the toxicity hit us. You come to accept slightly odd and inappropriate things as quite normal because they just keep happening.
  • Schroedingers CatSchroedingers Cat Shipmate, Waving not Drowning Host
    I have had people from a previous church totally cut me off. People I thought I was good friends with. It is really hurtful - not least because it makes it seem like I am only of value or interest to them in terms of what I can give to the church. Not as me.

    I get this in work situations - I generally don't really want to conenct with work people after I have left or even outside a work context. But church should be more, it should be about people not institutions.

    And manipulative clergy really get my goat. However apparently trivial their manipulation, it is abuse.
  • Intriguingly was spending a day with a friend and we got talking that churches have often dominantly open or closed couples. Closed couples stick close to each other and are really only happy talking to other couples in as tight a bond, open couples might still be close but simply asked people who were not in strong couples to join them. There was a suggestion that quite often close coupling happened when a church had been family focussed after the children had moved on.
  • HuiaHuia Shipmate
    edited November 2018
    APW- I still think your treatment sucks fetid dingoes kidneys and that the Minister has the pastoral skills of a rabid hyena.

    Jengie I think the idea of open and closed couples is interesting. I have noticed it too, but never put a name to it.
  • Schroedingers CatSchroedingers Cat Shipmate, Waving not Drowning Host
    Jengie - I was musing on your open/closed couples idea in relationship to my Quaker meeting (in comparison to other churches I have been to, and how I have been).

    I think it is valid - the more "family-friendly" churches tend to be closed, and my experience is that families talk to other families, rather than individuals talking to individuals in these places.

    My meeting is very open, and I think this is because we have only a few families, but a lot of people who are on their own (either permanantly or because their partner doesn't attend).

    Even those couples are generally open. I am trying to work out whether there is something of the Quaker mentality in this, and am not sure. But it always feels genuinely accepting.
  • All this is awful. I've seen toxic stuff happen in independent evangelical settings of one form or other but never heard of a vicar telling people that someone who'd left didn't want contact.

    What the ... ?!

    I thought that one of the features of the parish system was that people could opt in or out as they see fit.
  • The place that should heal is the place that harms. It is horribly appalling.

    Reading these experiences makes me want to know what are the symptoms and signs of abusive/ toxic relationships that I could be looking out for. Any suggestions?
  • PigletPiglet All Saints Host, Circus Host
    ISTM that you need to be wary of The Ruling Family* - they're all sweetness and light until you do or say something (possibly quite innocently) that for some reason displeases them, and all of a sudden you're Right Out.

    * In my experience, churches quite often have one of these, who have been sitting in the same pew since the time of William the Conqueror, and think they own the place
  • Schroedingers CatSchroedingers Cat Shipmate, Waving not Drowning Host
    Reading these experiences makes me want to know what are the symptoms and signs of abusive/ toxic relationships that I could be looking out for. Any suggestions?

    Listen out for lies - however innocuous. If anyone in leadership is telling lies, or avoiding telling about things that are important to the church*, then beware. It doesn't mean that there are problems, but it can be an indication.

    Also cliques - they exist in all churches, but if there is a leadership clique, that is worrying. As Piglet indicated, if they include The Ruling Family**, you have the makings of a problem, of a lack of accountability.

    *Note - sometimes there are things that cannot be talked about because they involve people. That is different, and the converse applies there.

    ** IME, this is often a dynasty, so multiple related families. These are not an issue as such, as long as they are not considered special just because they consist of 10 members.
  • When it happened to me, I found I had to decide whether I still really wanted to go to church. If so, I had to find a church that I felt able to attend, rather than one which would be too similar to that which caused me great distress. Fortunately, I made a good choice and kept doggedly attending until the PTCD slowly started to abate. It can take quite a while.
    All good wishes to those who are currently going through a similar ordeal. I hope it works out well for you.
  • I would say watch out for smooth waters. Churches that are open about not everything working are often a lot healthier.
  • PigletPiglet All Saints Host, Circus Host
    I suppose I'm in a kind of particular category, as D's livelihood depends on a good church situation, and (as he said when he was interviewed for his present post), we come as a package: they hire him, they get an alto for the choir as well.

    When things have gone pear-shaped for him in the past (once because of a toxic clergy situation that affected nearly all the staff, and once because the Ruling Family took against him for no reason), I've felt bereft of a big part of my life - musical and social as well as spiritual.

    I can completely understand those of you who want to "return" the hurt: the way I put it was that I needed "somebody to hate", which made me feel even worse, as hate isn't a word I like to use*.

    * except about Marmite, obviously. :naughty:
  • Piglet wrote: »
    Hate isn't a word I like to use*.

    * except about Marmite, obviously. :naughty:

    Is Outrage! Marmite has made me the person I am today - all that Vitamin B!

  • I wonder if I might drop in something from the point of view of someone married, and more-or-less in Church with their Family. I understand that in some contexts this might be presented as some kind of 'alpha' state. But from within, it is often difficult, full of compromise, more-or-less lonely, and so on. I don't want to reach out in friendship-at-home to people at church - couple-y home-y friendships are not really possible in my
    setup. But I would be very happy to clean the church with you once or month, or for you to help me clear out the gutters or paint the toilets. Task-orientated friendship for people without much to say, possibly more a male thing.




  • M-in-M

    Some people are task friendship builders whether they are singles or couples. I speak as a single who does that. I do not want to spend time being family with you at your home. I want a willingness to chat and be companionable when we are at church for a common purpose and not think that you can only relate to other couples in that situation.
  • Jengie JonJengie Jon Shipmate
    edited November 2018
    For people who are part of a couple and who want to know if they are in a closed or open couples then they can try this simple test.

    It is a church social, you are with your partner, there are two tables of four where you could sit. One already has a single family friend sat at it, the other has a well-established couple you have known as long. Which do you go and sit at?
  • Actually I would sit with the single person as my husband would not be attending any church social events!
    Sorry, I know that is not the point. Not all people in couples are both sociable.
  • Yes my point is for people to distinguish between open couples who will associate outside coupledom and closed couples who do not. Both types exist. The dominant type in a church will often determine how people who attend church on their own will be treated.
  • I go for the eucharist and stay away due to the people. Which isn't fair as this is a newish church for us, but we're playing it with distance from the people now. Trying not to play the distance with God. Which varies. As this thread as grown, I've been thinking there's an equation in here somewhere
    God + The People = Church
    
    That seems to be the wrong one. Maybe it's a subtraction?
    God - The People = ?????
    
    or
    (God - The People) ÷ Church = ?????
    

    What is the "?????" ‽
  • What is the "?????" ‽

    {-1}^0.5

  • the answer is 42!!

    Sorry ... as you were, chaps...
  • Jengie Jon wrote: »
    For people who are part of a couple and who want to know if they are in a closed or open couples then they can try this simple test.

    It is a church social, you are with your partner, there are two tables of four where you could sit. One already has a single family friend sat at it, the other has a well-established couple you have known as long. Which do you go and sit at?

    I would sit with the single person. But maybe that's because I married relatively late by evangelical standards and I remember what it's like being the single person. I was always determined that I didn't want us to turn into one of those couples.
  • Most of our congregation are single people. We had a church lunch yesterday and Mr Boogs and I sat with three single people.
  • Yes, I am not saying all couples are closed, that is why I put the test up, to show there are two types. I have no idea of what portion is closed and what portion is open. I suspect the closed couples have beliefs that make that the right answer for them. Suspect in the sense that I have some clue but what I would put up would be a parody.
  • EdithEdith Shipmate
    My experience was an RCC some years ago. The parish used to be run by three non secular priests and was vibrant, liberal and in the spirit of V11. They then moved on due to declining numbers and two priests from an American order took over.

    Within two weeks they removed the girls who served on the altar, stopped HC being Ministered by anyone other than themselves, told the headteacher of the school (who banned them from the premises) to start teaching the penny catechism, told the congregation to kneel at the altar rails and fulminated against communion in the hand. And instead of a recessional hymn he ordered the organist to play the National Anthem. It took a month for three quarters of the congregation to leave but almost a year for the bishop to remove the priests.

    Some people found other parishes, others left altogether. And the wider community suffered greatly.

    I eventually found another parish but church hopping isn’t really our tradition, and the whole mess should never have happened.

  • I wanted to thank people for their thoughts on warning signs of toxic churches. I talked them over with my wife and we were relieved to agree that they don't apply to our church, at least at the moment. It's a 20 year-old ecumenical church and was founded by a group of about 20 people and it could be said that they had undue influence under the previous minister, but not the current one who has only been in position for 5 years and is open and honest.
  • Wondering if volunteering to be an a board of completely unrelated, secular organization which is trying to make a difference in people's lives is a better idea. It feels quite fraught. Do prayers on your own and try to do some good in the world by contributing directly to people's lives. Can't figure out what else to do just now.
  • Sounds like a good option. Doesn't preclude sticking a toe back into "church" at some time when it feels right.
  • Schroedingers CatSchroedingers Cat Shipmate, Waving not Drowning Host
    I sometime emphasise the important tpoint that "church" and" faith" are not irrevocably intertwined - or rather shouldn't be. For many, church is a positive, helpful influence on their faith. But not all, and not always.

    I would far rather people ditched their church, and sought to hold onto their faith, han the other way around.

    It is possible for faith to grow without a church. Sometimes, it is the only way it can grow. Some people put too much focus on church growth (or limiting church decline), and not onfaith growth.
  • I believe that there's a corrolary to that, SC. To me, one of the reasons for PTCD is that churches are terrified of their members growing, in case they wander away. As the Alpha course demonstrates perfectly, all growth in faith is supposed to happen prior to initiation, and members are put in a state of suspended animation, ready to serve the institution at the price of developing their faith. If they're kept busy shaking tins, hopefully they won't notice their hearts and spirits straining at the leash.
  • Schroedingers CatSchroedingers Cat Shipmate, Waving not Drowning Host
    ThunderBunk - absolutely. I was addressing this to members not to churches. Churches - some of them - focus so much on keeping people in irrespective of their personal development.
  • Is the church-faith debate as old as the reformation, or is it longer. Speaking for myself, the problem is that some of us are highly practiced with them married together.
  • One of the things I found really helpful was reading books, directly or loosely based on theology, praxis, questioning faith, churchgoing surveys, etc. A mixture that I bought myself, read in an academic library, borrowed from other people. You get access to a much wider range of ideas than you could hear in several years' worth of sermons that way.
  • I fear that I am heading towards PTCD. @Boogie I feel in a similar position to you: I feel put upon, and unable to get rid of so much of the church work that comes my way. I have two young children, a husband with a demanding job and a part time job of my own; in contrast my (free evangelical) church pastor is single and paid to work full time for our church, but he is constantly asking me to do things that most people would expect him to do, whilst making sure his days off are sacrosanct and reminding me (and fellow trustees) that he needs a pay rise next year. He ladles it on about how he must ensure he doesn't suffer from burnout and burdens me with concerns about whether we are being responsible employers, taking proper care of him, and all the while there is nobody taking care of me. This year, I have done more towards our church's Christmas services and celebrations than he (or anyone else for that matter) has. I'm exhausted and I want to walk away from eldership, but there are so many reasons why I don't feel able to.

    I have my own goals - in my job and I'd like to study part-time - but these things keep on getting shelved to make room for all the church stuff I am expected to do.

    On top of that my faith is always on a merry-go-round. I'm a lifelong believer but sometimes it all seems so far from what Jesus really had in mind. Recently it has begun to feel more burdensome and pointless. Nothing changes, the church continues to shrink, sick people stay sick, hurt people stay hurt, difficult people are always difficult, and God seems to get further away (or smaller) every year. I can't talk to my family about this, nor to anyone in my church or friends from other local churches. Anyone outside church would fail to understand. I feel I have to keep going because I don't want my own problems to cause others to stumble or lose faith or become discouraged.

    I'm hoping next year to find some sort of middle way. I am thinking of booking in a meeting with the pastor and laying it all out there, with clear boundaries about what I am prepared to do. Because my worry is that if this continues it will eventually all blow up and there will be no going back. I'm also worried that he'll say all the right things but nothing will really change. And I am aware that it is likely me that needs to change.
  • BoogieBoogie Shipmate
    edited December 2018
    Sounds like a good plan @Foolish Hoon - and welcome to the New Ship!

    I am away visiting my son in Heidelberg from tomorrow until Boxing Day. All I feel is relief that I won’t be available for churchy stuff. I felt really pleased to be saying ‘count me out for any AV work over Christmas’.

    It must be so much harder with work and children to juggle too - at least I’m retired.
  • Baptist TrainfanBaptist Trainfan Shipmate
    edited December 2018
    @Foolish Hoon: No! The problem does not lie within you - you are a normal human being with a perfectly normal up-and-down Christian faith, a person who sincerely wants to serve God and your church. But your church and pastor seem to have got caught up in a spiritual rat-race of asking you to do more and more to "keep the show on the road" or - possibly more appositely - to "man the pumps to keep the ship afloat".

    Now I don't obviously know your Pastor (are you in Britain or elsewhere, by the way?) but it strikes me that he seems to be living in his own little churchy bubble and forgetting the pressures that most people live under (I know that because I am a Pastor myself and have to remind myself from time to time that there is more to life than church!)

    I think that two things need to happen here - other Shipmates may have other ideas of course. One is that you need to think about how much you can realistically do in the church, and what things you need to leave to one side. Then you must have an honest chat about this with your Pastor and not let him make you feel guilty. A "middle way" and "boundaries" sound good.

    But I think you need to go deeper; so my second point is that your church needs to step back and prayerfully take a good look at what it's doing. You are chasing your tails faster and faster in an attempt to have some "success", yet all that energy and effort clearly isn't delivering the goods. Perhaps God is trying to tell you all that there might be different ways of working to be explored, new activities to be considered and long-standing ones given up.

    What can't happen is for you and your church to get more and more frazzled. Yes, we work hard for God; but the situation you are describing is untenable and will pretty soon lead to burnout - not your Pastor's (who, from what you say, seems to have made himself quite comfortable) but your own. And we don't want that to happen to you.

    P.S. I presume from your post that you are a woman, while your Pastor is clearly a man. Is his thinking in anyway being led, even subconsciously, by dominant male/submissive female sexism?
  • Thanks @Baptist Trainfan you are quite right about the tail-chasing although it is true that I am probably more guilty of this than most. I'm a goal-oriented person, and I find it very hard to let go of the controls.

    I don't think there is a sexism issue. Unusually for an independent evangelical church in the UK, we have female elders (well one female elder - me) and the pastor is fully supportive of that. I think it is more the case that he has little idea what having a young family entails and assumes I have hours spare every day that I am just desperate to fill. Or maybe he expects me to tell him when it's getting too much.

    It is very kind of you to say that I don't need to change, but I really do think that a lot of this is of my own making. Perhaps others in the church haven't noticed me drowning, but that is likely because I always pretend I'm OK, whenever anyone asks. I hate asking for help, hate saying I can't cope. At the same time I've started to identify far too much with the older brother in the Prodigal Son parable ("All these years I've slaved for you, and you never gave me so much as a goat"). I don't think he was supposed to be a role model for our attitude towards God...
  • PigletPiglet All Saints Host, Circus Host
    You describe your position in the church as "elder": is it a role where the duties and expectations are set out before you take it on? Are there others, and are they pulling their weight?

    If it's a voluntary role, then I'd say you'd be quite justified in telling your clergyman that there are limits to what you can take on, and he's exceeding them. If you explain that your work is suffering, surely he'd understand, and try and find someone else to take part of your load?

    In our last place, I did quite a bit of volunteering, but when I got part-time work I cut it down a bit and they found someone else to do it.

    I get the feeling that your pastor's taking advantage of your good nature, and the only answer is for you to explain that you can't do everything and be everywhere.
  • john holdingjohn holding Ecclesiantics Host, Dead Horses Host, Mystery Worshipper Host
    I sometimes find it useful to remind clergy that the hours of service they get from the laity are hours in addition to what said laypersons are doing for God in their jobs, families and communities. The Pastor"s "40 hours a week" are his/her base, as a layperson's family and job are his/her base (at the least, because the lay person's job helps pay the pastor's salary). What the layperson does is on top of the base...and the clergy equivalent is what he/she does on top of the "40 hours" for which he/she is paid or expected to do. (I use 40 hours a week as an approximation of a full-time white collar job in the secular world.) The ordained need to clock their hours and ensure, verifiably, that they are not asking for the equivalent of what would be for them, an additional 10-15 hours of work
  • Piglet wrote: »
    You describe your position in the church as "elder": is it a role where the duties and expectations are set out before you take it on? Are there others, and are they pulling their weight?

    Yes there is one other, but he has a full time job, which has recently started to be very demanding due to an important deadline, so I feel unable to ask him to take on more. My job is a self-employed position, so it is easy for me to put it on a back burner, but the ambitions I have to expand what I do, and to get better at it are constantly being pushed aside.
    Piglet wrote: »
    I get the feeling that your pastor's taking advantage of your good nature, and the only answer is for you to explain that you can't do everything and be everywhere.

    This. There are a couple of areas in my life like this to be honest, and I think I need to stand up for myself. Putting this in writing I am suddenly seeing what a walkover I am.
    The ordained need to clock their hours and ensure, verifiably, that they are not asking for the equivalent of what would be for them, an additional 10-15 hours of work

    Maybe I should have been clocking my church hours. I have considered it, but was worried that if I did I'd get really really angry and resentful about how much I am doing, so I sort of tried to avoid facing up to it. Funny that in the back of my mind, that resentment has been building up anyway. Writing this down makes me realise what an unhealthy, repressive track I've been taking; trying to keep smiling and "extending grace" when it was really time for me to say "enough" some time ago.
  • BroJamesBroJames Purgatory Host
    I sometimes find it useful to remind clergy that the hours of service they get from the laity are hours in addition to what said laypersons are doing for God in their jobs, families and communities. The Pastor"s "40 hours a week" are his/her base, as a layperson's family and job are his/her base (at the least, because the lay person's job helps pay the pastor's salary). What the layperson does is on top of the base...and the clergy equivalent is what he/she does on top of the "40 hours" for which he/she is paid or expected to do. (I use 40 hours a week as an approximation of a full-time white collar job in the secular world.) The ordained need to clock their hours and ensure, verifiably, that they are not asking for the equivalent of what would be for them, an additional 10-15 hours of work
    The figures for expected clergy working hours I have most often seen in the Church of England are 48 or 50. This is presented on one or other (sometimes both) of two bases. One is starting with a base 40 hours, and then adding another 10 hours on the basis of what a committed lay person might be contributing. The other is on the basis of 8 hours a day in a 6 day working week.

    Statistically the evidence more widely seems to suggest 48-50 hours is a clergy norm.
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