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Skeletons in the sacristy?

Skeletons in the sacristy?

Lindsay Hardin Freeman writes about figurative “skeletons in the sacristy” in the Episcopal Church Foundation Vital Practices blog:

Skeletons in the Sacristy

By Lindsay Hardin Freeman, part of the Vestry Papers issue on Conflict and Controversy at ECFVP

Skeletons in the sacristy? We have one — figuratively, at least — in our church. We don’t talk about it much; most parishioners haven’t even known about it. But like in all family systems, and the church is one, not talking about things isn’t always the best option, either.

. . .

“Most parishes do have stuff in their closets,” says Speed Leas of the Alban Institute and a specialist in parish conflict. “Some have worked through it, and had substantial growth. But if you have a place that calls a lot of rectors and just runs through them, or clergy say ‘that’s a tough place,’ then you have a place that needs some attention.”

Which begs the question: How do skeletons rumbling around in a church affect current-day life and what do vestries do about them?

“The purpose of looking at the past is not to dwell there, but to see how the past affects the present,” says family systems analyst Peggy Treadwell, director of the Counseling Center at St. Columba’s Church in Washington, D.C. “There’s an old saying, ‘anybody can take the truth, but the secrets can kill you.’”


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25 years ago, I joined a certain parish. Many people introduced themselves to me. After one man did, I swear, another person practically FOLLOWED him around saying to me (a young woman at the time) “Stay away from him: the whole church knows he molested his daughters, but those same now-adult daughters threatened to quit the church if we turn him in”. [Repeated by several other parishioners to me]

I immediately realized this was NOT a healthy way to deal w/ this problem! O_o

JC Fisher

Ann Fontaine

From the March 2005 Vestry Papers on conflict.

But the core ideas remain germane.

Kathleen Stanley

Is this a recent article? St. Columba’s hasn’t had a counseling center in more than five years.

Ann Fontaine

My work as an Interim bears this out. So many unhealed events affect the present even if most members were not there at the time. Sexual abuse is the worst, secondly financial misconduct. The unhealed church tends to call similar personalities over and over – -those who misuse their power, have poor personal boundaries and are self centered but usually charming at first.

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