Written by Steven Liechty
Dear Theo, So I became a member of a small and welcoming UCC church. I volunteered in many ways. I attended services weekly. I got sick and did not come to church for 6 plus weeks and not one (church) person called to see how I was doing. Not even the pastor. Am I wrong to feel ignored and upset?
Dear Time to Move On,
What a dispiriting experience! It appears as if you did everything pastors and church leaders long for when they see a newcomer sit down in a pew for the first time—worship regularly with the community and get involved in its ministries. So to find yourself without church support when you needed it feels awful, especially because the congregation is small enough to notice such things. It's not like you got lost in the shuffle of a mega-church!
So, no, it isn't surprising that you feel bad about this, and it certainly isn't wrong. What would be wrong, I think, is to keep your disappointment to yourself, drop out, and move on. The pastor and the other members of the church appear to have missed a chance to be of help to you, but that doesn't necessarily mean that's the way they always are, or that that's the way they really want to be. The only way to find out what this incident means is to talk with the pastor about your experience.
My hunch is that the pastor will be mortified by the lapse. And if it turns out that the church is in fact usually a little unfeeling, or too turned in on itself so that it doesn't reach out well to new people, or the pastor has become to busy to notice pastoral needs, this might be the wake up call pastor and community need to take a good look at themselves as others see them.
It's important not to beat anybody judgmentally over the head with your experience, though. People tend to hear “correction” (and that's what this is—see Matthew 18:15-17) a lot better when it's delivered in a spirit of care and with the expectation that the Spirit is eager to change all our hearts. So even though it appears you were not treated very well, be sure you treat them well, and approach the pastor not in a spirit of complaint, but in a spirit of truth and helpfulness. It just might turn out that all will be well, and that your new church home becomes even more of a home for you than you hoped it would be at the start.
One last thing—you don't mention whether you got in touch with the pastor or deacons of the church when you got sick. If you didn't, you may have missed the chance to be placed on the prayer list, and it could be part of the reason no one contacted you. Although pastors of small congregations surely ought to notice when someone goes missing for six weeks, they're human and can get as distracted as anyone else. Giving them a call or sending an email is always an important thing to do.
Whatever the case, talk to your pastor. Second chances are what being in fellowship is all about.
Bless you, and may you be a blessing,
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