Sibling Rivalry


As
an only child, I never really understood the whole issue of sibling
rivalry.  I grew up with my own room.  My toys were safe from
the hands of younger siblings who might play with them and perhaps break
them.  I had the attention of my parents and maternal grandparents,
without the competition of siblings.  Then I married an only child
as well.  We are a good match because we understand the other’s
need for space and independence, even though I have no sister-in-laws
to share stories with or nieces or nephews to dote on. Two years ago,
we gave birth to our child, who is still an only child herself and an
only grandchild on both sides.  She has our attention, her own
room, the loving attention of four sets of grandparents and one Busha
(great-grandma).

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In
our home of only children, I still have not had a need to understand
sibling rivalry.  That is, until I became a pastor, called to serve
a yoked, 2-point parish in the central Pennsylvania mountains. 
At that time, my husband served a 2-point parish, I served a 2-point
parish, 2 young clergy friends served 2-point parishes, and one of our
very daring and patient friends served a 3-point parish.  We shared
a lot of stories together.  Quickly, I came to understand that
a yoked parish is a lot like a family. My two churches, one bigger and
the other significantly smaller, relate to each other like siblings. 
The churches are together out of stark necessity and sometimes love. 
Their histories together often date back longer than some sets of siblings
will ever live.  Each church has its own personality including
different traditions and favorite hymns.  They share a common mission,
but often squabble over the details.  In good times and hard times,
they are in ministry together.  They were loving and supportive
of each other on their best days, competitive and jealous when the road
was bumpy.  So what did they possibly have to compete over?

One
of the major sources of competition between yoked churches often revolves
around the role of the pastor.  Which church is the parsonage/manse
closest to?  In the case of my previous churches, the original
parsonage was next to the larger church, but a new one was built in
the 1970s halfway between the churches to make the situation more equitable. 
How is the pastor’s salary shared between the churches, and how is
that negotiated when one of the churches might be having budget problems? 
Which church gets more of the pastor’s time and attention?  Sometimes,
by virtue of necessity, in a given week or month, one church will receive
more pastoral care and time, but my conviction is that it balances out
in the end.  And the biggest struggle that keeps resurfacing, does
one church feel that it is the pastor’s favorite and the other feel
that it gets left out?  (Just a side note, I have learned that
though difficult at times, it is my call to make each church feel like
the favorite, for they are both precious in God’s eyes.)  A practicality
connected with sharing a pastor was schedule-related as in the following
touchy question: Which church gets the coveted early service on Christmas
Eve?

Another
wave of envy seems to focus around new members, most especially young
families joining one church instead of the other.  Each church
in the parish would say that they wished the best for their partner
church, but it is hard to watch one church welcome new members and grow. 
It is especially hard when the youth and young families are joining
one church rather than the other.

A
third area that seemed to be sibling-like was the issue of blame and
finger-pointing.  At budget time or when a pastor would leave for
a new call, the question would occasionally surface about whose fault
any event might be.  Most often, it was most convenient to blame
any problems on the other sibling/church.

Still,
with all the challenges and nuances of serving a 2-point parish, my
husband and I have chosen to do it all again.  In this call, we
share a 2-point parish between us.  We have found that there is
much joy and blessing in a call like this.  Though we have double
the council meetings each month, we also have 2 Sunday School Christmas
programs and 2 Vacation Bible Schools each summer.  We have 2 unique
communities to call home and that we relate to differently.  We
have noticed a blessed balance that when life is more difficult at one
church, it is more joyful or easygoing at the second.  Just like
parents who may face arguments about toys or antics to capture their
attention, but would never trade their children for anything in the
world, we are blessed by our sibling churches, for they are partners
for each other and for us in spreading God’s love.

 

Heather Culuris is an ELCA pastor sharing a call to two churches in the lakes country of Minnesota with her husband.  She is also mom to a talkative 2-year-old whose favorite words are "RIGHT NOW."

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