Saturday, April 28, 2012

PARISH DISAGREEMENTS FATHER SHELTON'S WISE ADVICE

Now we come right up-to-date with the pastoral recommendations of the good Father Shelton . And we begin to examine the development of events:


ST.FRANCIS OF ASSISI CHURCH TOWNSEND TENNESSEE

EXPRESSING DISAGREEMENT AND PRESERVING UNITY

Dear Parishioners,

 We have some disagreements in our parish. There are parishioners who want things to go one way, and others who strongly insist on another way. As the pastor (parish priest), I must sometimes make decisions that some of you may dislike. As Christians, the question for us is: can we express our disagreements fully while preserving, and even increasing, our unity? Our faith in Christ tells us we can.

First, we must remember that we do not create unity in the parish; Christ does. When we find ourselves in some kind of disagreement here, we must first turn to Christ, offering him our praise and petitions. He always welcomes us in our times of need and offers to guide us in charitable dialogue with those with whom we disagree. Making a Holy Hour in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament before discussing a disagreement with someone is always a good idea.


Second, we must remember that each of us is made in the image of God, and so we each deserve to be treated with respect, even in times of disagreement. For this reason, it’s good to stick to established facts and thoughtful opinions pertaining to the disagreement, rather than using emotionally charged expressions or overly dramatic statements. Focus the disagreement on the issue rather than on the person/group, saying, for example, “I disagree with your actions because…”, rather than saying “I disagree with you because…” Speculation about the other’s mental state or hidden motives is inappropriate.


Third, rather than discussing a disagreement with third-party parishioners (or with outsiders in town), it’s a good idea to talk only to the person/group with whom you have the disagreement. It could be that you have misunderstood something about the disagreement, or that the other party simply made a mistake. If you speak only with the other party, you may be able to resolve the disagreement without tainting their reputation among other parishioners. As a general rule, it’s good to ask yourself this question before discussing a disagreement: “am I speaking constructively to the right person/group here, or am I only aggravating the disagreement by bringing more people into it?”


Fourth, it’s good to provide a certain logical order to the presentation of your disagreement. Begin by stating the other party’s position as best you can, saying, for example, “if I understand you correctly, you did/said this…for the following reasons:… Is that correct?” Then, explain your objections reasonably but thoroughly, saying, for example, “I wonder if you considered, or would be willing to consider…, for the following reasons:… Whatever you decide, thank you for taking the time to respectfully listen to my concerns.” If you’re on the receiving end, then patiently correct any factual misunderstandings, and then be sure to listen carefully to the objections, asking questions for clarification without jumping into a defensive mode. Focus on trying to explain, rather than on trying to convince or defend. And, do so humbly. Even the best decisions can suffer from an arrogant attitude on the part of those who make them.


Fifth, both sides should remember that just because someone still disagrees with your position even after you thoroughly explain it does not mean they don’t understand or respect it. It could be that they understand and respect your position perfectly well, but just plain disagree with it. And that’s O.K.


Sixth, since we are all committed to the Gospel and are all determined to make the best decisions in its light, it’s important for us all to respect even those decisions with which we disagree. This is especially important when the pope, a bishop or a pastor (parish priest) makes a decision. For example, if I make a decision that is meant to benefit the parish and that is not contrary to the Gospel or Church law, then it’s good to try to cooperate with the decision even if you disagree with it. Try saying to yourself, “I do not agree with Father Shelton about this point, but I know he made this decision with good intentions and that it is not contrary to the Gospel or to Church law, so I will do my best to cooperate with it”. Even if you prove to be right in a parochial disagreement and the other party is eventually proven wrong, your patient cooperation may contribute to the overall good of the parish in ways that overcome the harm done by the bad decision.


Finally, if at all possible, try to avoid threatening to stop functioning in a volunteer capacity, or to leave the parish altogether, if things don’t go your way. That kind of behavior can paralyze a parish, making those in authority hesitate to make any decisions about anything out of fear of the parish falling apart. Rather, let’s try to show each other as much patience as God shows us.


May we all grow in holiness as we move through the holy season of Eastertide, knowing that the Resurrection of Christ gives us hope even when things don’t go our way.

In Christ,

Father Shelton

April 24, 2012, Memorial of Saint Fidelis of Sigmaringen, renowned for carefully avoiding all invectives, detractions and whatever else might adversely affect the reputation of his opponents.


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