“How did you manage that?” is usually the question I get in response.
Okay let me backup a second… I wasn’t really fired. I was technically laid off. But it felt like I got fired. Let me set the story.
(I’ve left out the name of the church and the names of people involved for the obvious reason.)
I started attending the church in question when I was 4 years old. Yes, four. The reason we had started attending this particular church is because their at-the-time new pastor had moved in a few houses down from where we were living in South Fargo. And his two kids were very similar in age to me and my two sisters (as well as the rest of the kids on the cul de sac). Needless to say we became very active members of the church and knew the pastor very well. I went to Sunday School there, had First Communion there, and was confirmed there. I grew up in that church.
Fast forward to when I was in high school and just getting my feet wet in Web Design. I was helping the church on a volunteer basis with technical stuff…. running sound and projections, etc. They were looking for someone to put in a few hours a week and become a content manager of sorts for their website. I of course being a poor high school kid with no money, and wanting to polish my Web Design chops threw my name in the hat. It didn’t pay all that well, but I was a high school student working for a church. I was just happy to get the experience, and serving my church was a bonus.
I served in this capacity throughout the end of high school and all of college. I was able to use their website as a guinea pig of sorts to try out new things, including a brand new website structure. This got used on several other websites I would go on to build. They ended up with a top-notch website, and I got to prefect my craft. Win win.
After I graduated from college is when things started going downhill. For almost all of college I worked at both the church and the radio station (the same group of stations I work for today). After graduating, my involvement at the radio station began to increase. I was still running the church’s website, but I wasn’t in the office nearly as often I was. But I was still keeping their site up-to-date either at home in the evening, or at the station if I had some downtime. I made it very clear to them that I would still run their website, even if I didn’t have regular office hours, so to speak.
After a few months, I stopped getting emails from the staff regarding content. This happened in the middle of August, which should have been prime time to be updating the site with new content for ministries that were starting up in the Fall. I inquired to the pastor and the church administrator about why I stopped receiving content to post and did not get an answer.
I dropped into the church at random one day and talked to the secretary and asked what was going on. She said everyone was waiting for the new website.
Uhh… what new website?
It was around this same time the main pastor (that I had known literally forever) was on sabbatical to deal with some personal issues he was having. So I instead started dealing with the Executive Pastor (which was really kind of a weird role… he was a pastor, but his job was to act like a CEO. Very bizarre).
Turns out this Executive Pastor had made the decision to ditch the website I built them and go to one with no content management and no uniform design. They were moving to a DIY like platform where everyone would design their own page and update their own content. Everyone had the ability to update content through a CMS with the site I built. But everyone design their own page? That’s a disaster waiting to happen (spoiler alert: it was). He told me they would be ready to move it in a few weeks and once I re-pointed the domain name I was no longer needed.
I was being fired. The one and only time I have ever gotten fired.
The website move happened a few weeks later and that was the end of that. And I understood what they were wanting to do and I went along with it. And in an effort to be a good sport, I still volunteered to help with the services on occasion like I had been. After all I had been a member of the church for almost 20 years, I just wasn’t an employee anymore. I was okay with that.
A few months after this it was my turn to run the board for a Sunday service. I hadn’t attended a service in a few months, the last time I volunteered to help which was right after the website switch over. But this time everything felt different. Too different. I saw a lot of people I didn’t know (there were always visitors or new members you didn’t know, but there were way more than usual). And when I ran into a few of the office staffers that were attending worship I got a bad vibe. The “why are you here?” kind of vibe. It was then and there I finally took the hint. I wasn’t welcome there anymore. That Sunday was the last time I stepped foot in the church I grew up in; I haven’t been there since.
A few days ago, I got a letter from the church (that was clearly cookie cutter), stating that I hadn’t attended a service in a while and wondering if I still wanted to be a member. As far as I’m concerned I never terminated my membership; they terminated it for me four years ago.
So why did all of this go down? I think it’s a combination of things. The church had grown exponentially the last few years I was there. It grew a lot over the almost 20 years I was there, but the membership changed substantially over the last few years.
I also think that the Executive Pastor took advantage of the situation. The Senior Pastor, as mentioned, was on sabbatical for personal issues. He ended up stepping down that next spring. As did the secretary. And a bunch of other support staff. Without going into too much detail, the way the Senior Pastor got forced out I didn’t think was all that professional, and perhaps that upset some of the other staff. This Executive Pastor is no longer working in faith, so I suspect he learned quickly you can’t run a church like a business. Totally not the same thing.
As for my situation, looking back the whole thing leaves a bad taste in my mouth. What happened was bound to happen anyway… I was going full time at the radio station and didn’t have time for the church website. I was going to have to leave the church staff, that was inevitable. I just wish I would have either left on my own terms, or have been given the option to step down and relinquish my web duties. If they would have asked me to quit I would have. Like I said, the whole thing was inevitable.
But even after the fact when I was still trying to be an active member and kinda getting shunned for it? To this day I don’t understand why. I didn’t do anything wrong, and I certainly didn’t piss anyone off (or at least I hope not). The attitude I was getting after I left church staff really just rubbed me the wrong way.
Ever since that last Sunday I volunteered I have not attended Sunday worship at any church. I’ve been to a few different churches for weddings and the such, but I have not attended on Sunday morning. Will I start doing so? Eventually. Unlike some who have had a bad church experience, I have maintained my faith and plan on finding another church to worship at. But not right now.
In general I tend not to dwell on the past. Having moved and changed schools several times growing up, I have never really had anything constant in my life. The church I grew up in was the only thing that had remained a constant in my life, in fact. I had remained a member through three school changes and college, and multiple houses. I’ve gotten good at moving on from things, and this is no different.
On my church email, like many who work in faith, I had a Bible verse at the bottom of my email signature. 1 Peter 4:10 “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” That’s kinda been my motto with all the different projects/jobs I take on. I still live by that today. My gift is clearly technical in nature, and while I’m no longer serving the Church with it, I think I’m doing a lot of great things for Broadcasting, Amateur Radio, and Web Design with my skill-set.
And maybe that was the lesson I was supposed to take away.