Can We Talk? – November 26, 2017 – Riverview United


Rev Catherine opened the meeting Can We Talk? by explaining we would be talking about communication and how we do it. That it would be a participatory session.

  1. Sessions norms were invited and the following things were named by participants:
    1. be respectful
    2. speak for yourself not others
    3. be truthful
    4. let others finish speaking before you start speaking
    5. have concern for others
    6. use positive statements


  1. What does communication mean?
    1. how do we know what happens at meetings?
    2. knowing clearly what will happen at upcoming meetings
    3. ask the question rather than stew and spread the confusion


  1. What is working?
    1. email and Facebook
    2. information in bulletin
    3. Midweek message
    4. announcements scrolling through before service
    5. posting Executive Council information
    6. two separate people emphasized that people had to take responsibility for getting the information that is available.


  1. What could work better?
    1. buddy system for those who don’t have computer, those who do not have this technology could call and ask their buddy about the Midweek message
    2. a participant asked for a show of hands for those who didn’t have email, of those present, only 4 didn’t.
    3. we need constant reminders to look at the boards


  1. Catherine, Martha Healy (Transition Team Chair) and Al Wallace (M&P member shared a skit on Triangulation.

 Triangulation Skit

Narrator:      Rev. Smith is winding down after a long day of ministry. She puts her feet up, picks up a book and gives a contented sigh,

Rev:             Ah, Sunday afternoon, I think the services went well, I feel as if I am getting to know the people after six months… time for a cup of tea and start looking at the readings for next week.

The phone rings…

Rev:             Hello.

David:           Hi Reverend, it’s David, you remember me, the chair of the board.

Rev:             Oh yes, David, how are your children doing? Adjusting to your wife going back to work after maternity leave?

David:           Oh yes, it’s been a bit challenging, but they are getting used to it.

Rev:             Glad to hear that… it’s a big change after her being home for a year, plus you were able to take some leave too weren’t you.

David:           Yes, thanks. I really appreciated your sermon this morning about how we all have different ideas of family.

Rev:             Thanks.

David:           Clears throat, Um, look you know I think you’re great, and a lot of other folks do, too. As far as I’m concerned, you’re the breath of fresh air our church really needs. The thing is, though, I’ve gotten some phone calls from some other members. And, well, some people aren’t happy with some of the things that are taking place…

Narrator:       Ever been involved in a conversation like that? It’s called a triangle. Where you are relaying information from another source without names, so there is no possibility that anything is going to change.

What is wrong with the way this scene unfolded?

  1. The names are rarely, if ever, attached to the comments. “Some people are concerned…” “There is a perception that…” The presenting issues are often vague, and they’re made to sound like they represent the consensus of the entire congregation. But do they? How should a minister respond to these concerns when she doesn’t even know who they come from or what specific thing has triggered them?
  1. David, the chair of the board, is trying to be helpful, but he’s engaging in a communication technique called “triangulation”. Just like triangle has three points, triangulation involves three parties. Person A has something to say to person B, but instead of drawing a line of communication directly between A and B, person A gets person C to pass the word along.

Rev:             Hangs up the phone tiredly and sighs.

Oh Lord… I am feeling frustrated and discouraged. I know David is a good person and is only trying to help, but I don’t know what to do with what he said.

Who is unhappy with the way I do the pastoral prayer?

What exactly is inappropriate about my use of humor in my sermons? How exactly can I be “more spiritual”?

And didn’t the church say they wanted more young people? Why exactly is it a problem that I spend so much time with the youth?

Narrator:       The problem with triangulated, unattributed comments is that they offer no opportunity for dialogue. The minister is robbed of the possibility of having a deep pastoral conversation with whomever voiced the concern to the chair.

She doesn’t get to use their concern as an opportunity to get to know them on a deeper level and find out what has motivated them to share their feelings in this way.

She doesn’t get to consider the source. Is it Mr. Jones who always finds something to gripe about, or is it Mrs. Jennings, who never has a bad word to say about anything or anyone, and therefore a concern from her is something to take seriously?

Are these David’s personal gripes, and he’s portraying them as the voice of the entire congregation?

In short, triangulated comments deny the minister the chance to be the minister. They undermine her ministry and make the church an unhealthier place. When David the chair, shares a concern in this way, he’s genuinely trying to make an uncomfortable situation as easy as possible, but in reality it has made things worse.

The minister will likely scan the congregation next Sunday, wondering who is talking about her behind her back, even as they smile and say, “nice to see you,” on the way out.

Rev:             Look, David, I appreciate you sharing these things with me, and I seek feedback so that I can be the best minister I can be, the kind of minister you deserve. But these generalities don’t afford me the opportunity to learn and grow. I need to know more about what exactly drives these comments. I need to know who they came from so I can have some conversations with these folks. Let’s dig deeper together so our relationship as minister and church can be everything God wants it to be.”

Narrator:       The minister needs to be able to sit down with Mrs. Jennings in her living room over a cup of tea and get to know more about what concerns her about her pastoral prayers. She needs to be able to talk with Mr. Jones and tell him that, while she respects his opinion, she has to devote time to bringing in new members so that the church has a stable future. Perhaps she can even brainstorm with Mr. Jones some ways for the congregation to work together to care for the shut-ins that she doesn’t have as much time to see as she’d like.

Narrator:       If David responds with “I really can’t say”, or “I don’t feel comfortable sharing who said that to me”, then the minister needs to firmly, lovingly say, “well, then I’m sorry, David, but I don’t really know what to do with such general, non-specific information, so we’re not really accomplishing anything here. Please ask those folks if they’re willing to put their name to their comments, otherwise there’s nothing I can do.”

These positive pastoral encounters are only possible if the minister pushes back against the triangulation and refuses to let unattributed concerns remain that way. Some momentary discomfort on the part of her and her chair can result in positive growth for her as a minister and for the congregation as a family who truly trusts one another enough to “tell the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). But that will only happen if the minister and key congregational leaders have the courage to remove the veil of anonymity, take the risk of being truly vulnerable with one another, and open themselves up for grace to transform them all, rewarding their risk.

Adapted from When Some People Complain

  1. How can we improve communication?
    1. If we don’t understand something then ask someone who can answer your question. ie. If you don’t understand an announcement, ask Pat or Rev. Catherine
    2. Go to the source if you are unhappy with something or someone. ie. If you disagree with a decision of the Executive, speak to Rev. Catherine or Bill Parks (Chair). If you are unhappy with someone, go speak to them!
    3. If you uncomfortable speaking about your concern, ask a third party to go with you.
    4. If someone complains about the same thing repeatedly, ask for possible solutions or ask that person not to tell you this anymore
    5. Diligently read the announcements and circles and other information sources
    6. Here is the link to the video that wouldn’t load.
  1. How do we encourage people to sign up for projects?
    1. In response to this, we have changed one of the boards in the entryway to be a sign up board, that’s where all projects etc. will be posted.
  1. One of the pieces of the new governance that has not yet been initiated is what Rev. Catherine Smith called ‘Shared Ministry Gatherings’ (which upon reflection is not a good term for us to use since we used to be part of a ‘Shared Ministry’ with the Presbyterians and want to avoid confusion) where all groups/committee etc, get together to share with each other what was going on and their plants. As an Executive, we made a conscious decision to delay implementing that as we were trying to get our own feet on stable ground first. This may have been an error on our part, so we will host our first one in January, date to be determined.
  1. As I was writing this report, I wanted to elaborate on three things that seemed to cause a great deal of anxiety and gossip in the past few months:
    1. Painting the entryway – somehow word got around that the entryway was going to be painted turquoise and why did we even need to paint it at all. The group that was empowered by the executive (the decision making body of the congregation) to refresh the entryway, decided on the colour of paint. I spoke one Sunday about using turquoise as an accent colour, which is the colour of our front doors and incidentally the colour of friendship, somehow that got misinterpreted as Catherine was painting the entryway turquoise.
    2. Confusion about decorating for Christmas – again, somehow the UCW’s message to Rev. Catherine letting her know that they would not be able to decorate the sanctuary and entryway got interpreted to mean that she wasn’t letting them decorate, Mabel Wellwood, UCW President addressed this in a previous Midweek Message.
    3. Concerns about stacking unused chairs at back of church – that for whatever reason Rev. Catherine did not want us to grow. First of all, I agree that stacking the chairs at the back is not the best solution, if you have an idea of how to address this, please speak with me. What I (Rev. Catherine) didn’t do a good job of communicating is that there is a ratio of seating capacity to average worship attendance that is generally thought to be the most effective: we should only have 20-25% empty chairs, or another way of putting that, 75-80% of the chairs should be filled. More empty seats than feels as if ‘nobody’ is in worship. Less than that, it feels too crowded. Our average Sunday attendance is 75-80, we have around 145 chairs out, so we are only using 55% of available seats, much lower than what is considered ideal. As attendance increases, we will add more.



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